Your Ministry of Mercy

Our God is a merciful God. Over the past six weeks we’ve been looking at various aspects of God’s mercy and how blessed we are to receive God’s mercy. Today we are going to look at how blessed we are to show God’s mercy to others. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7) He’s saying that if you want to receive God’s mercy, then you have to offer mercy to others. That’s how it works. The more you show mercy to others, the more God is going to show mercy to you. It’s the principle of “you reap what you sow” that God has hard wired into the universe. You sow mercy by being merciful to others and God gives you a harvest of mercy in your own life.
What is mercy? MERCY IS LOVE IN ACTION. That’s your first fill in on your sermon outline for today. Mercy is love in action. Mercy isn’t just an idea. It’s not just a nice thought. It’s not just an emotion. It’s not just talk. It’s love in action. Here’s something else it is: MERCY IS COMPASSION. It’s having compassion for others and showing compassion to others. Compassion is entering into another person’s pain. It’s not just comprehending another’s pain, but somehow coming alongside someone in pain and sharing in that experience with them, in a way that provides support and relief to them. It’s more than offering sympathy. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone. Compassion is far more than pity. Compassion is sharing the burden of someone else’s pain and suffering in a way that lifts their burden.
Pity is saying, “Oh, did you hear so and so just lost his job. I feel so bad for him. Poor guy.” Compassion is saying, “Oh, did you hear so and so lost his job. I feel so bad for him. I wonder how we can help. Let’s go talk to him and see what he needs.” Then you go. Pity is saying, “You know the single mom who lives two doors down? I hear she’s been in the hospital all week. So sad. She never gets a break.” Compassion is saying, “You know the single mom who lives two doors down? I hear she’s been in the hospital all week. So sad. She never gets a break. Let’s go over and see how we can help. Maybe we can watch the kids or make some food for them.” Then you do.
Mercy is not afraid to get involved. It’s not afraid to step into the brokenness of others. That’s what Jesus did. He stepped into our brokenness when he took on flesh and became a man. He stepped into our broken human condition in order to lift our burden—the burden of sin and death. Now he tells us, “Blessed are the merciful, [the ones who show compassion, the ones who lift the burdens of others when they are being crushed by them], for they will be shown mercy.”
The mercy of God is like a river flowing through us on it’s way to others. It’s not meant to be a reservoir. It’s will keep flowing into us as long as we allow it to flow out to others. If you refuse to show mercy to others, if you refuse to act with compassion and kindness toward others, then you are cutting yourself off from the flow of God’s mercy to you.
WHAT DOES MERCY LOOK LIKE? For the answer let’s turn to Mark’s account of Jesus interacting with a man who was carrying a heavy burden. The Bible says, “A man with leprosy came to Jesus and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’ “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him and he was cured. Jesus sent him away at once with a strong warning: ‘See that you don’t tell this to anyone. But go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.’ Instead he went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.” (Mark 1:40-45)
Let me first share with you some things about leprosy. That’s a disease we don’t hear much about today. Most people know very little about it. I have an older cousin who is a doctor and she worked at a leprosy clinic in Florida early in her career. They eventually closed the clinic because there were no more cases of leprosy in our country. We don’t see it anymore and young people don’t even know what it is. In that way it’s much like polio. As a member of a Rotary service club, I’ve joined together with other Rotarians to rid the world of polio. When I talk to young people about our work, they don’t know what polio is because it’s been eradicated from our country since before they were born. And pretty much gone from the rest of the world except for Pakistan and Afghanistan.
In Jesus’ day, to have leprosy was a lot like having polio. Everybody was afraid of you because they didn’t want to get it from you. If you got leprosy, you would be banished to a leprosy colony and made to live there away from family and friends. You were considered “unclean” and you were forbidden to go near those who didn’t have the disease. No one really understood what caused leprosy back then and so they assumed it was because God was punishing the person for their sins. Leprosy was considered an outward sign of an inward failure to obey God. In the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament it says, “The leper must wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’” (Leviticus 13:45)
Try to imagine this: if you had leprosy you had to identify yourself by looking as bad as you could—letting your hair go wild, letting your clothes deteriorate on your body. You’d have to wear a scarf over your face so people didn’t have to look at your lips and nose and ears all mutilated and eaten up by the disease. Your hands and feet would be wrapped with rags to hide the painful missing fingers and toes, all eaten away by the disease. If you left the leper colony for any reason, you would have to shout “Unclean! Unclean!” everywhere you went so people could run away from you. This was an announcement to everyone that you were a moral failure, under the judgment of God. The Bible commanded, “As long as he has the infection he remains unclean. He must live alone; he must live outside the camp.” (Leviticus 13:46)
This was the heavy burden the man was carrying with when he came to Jesus. Mark tells us there was a huge crowd following Jesus that day and so as the man made his way toward Jesus he would have been shouting, “Unclean! Unclean!” and the crowd would have parted out of his way for fear of coming into contact with him. He goes straight up to Jesus and falls on his knees, everyone one watching. In total desperation and brokenness, he says to Jesus, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” (Mark 1:40) What an amazing statement of faith. “I know you can heal me. I believe in you. I know you can heal me if you only want to.” And he looked at Jesus with such longing—longing to be healed. Then Jesus did the unthinkable. Mark tells us, “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. ‘I am willing,’ he said. ‘Be clean!’ (Mark 1:41)
Jesus did the unthinkable. In an act of compassion, he reached out and touched the man. I wonder how long it had been since someone had touched him. I wonder how long it had been since someone looked him in the eye and felt compassion rather than repulsion or fear. Before he even spoke a word to the man, Jesus reached out in an act of compassion and touched him. Let this be a lesson to us. Before we say anything, we need to let people know we care. Somehow we need to let them know we care. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. People don’t want to hear it. They want to see it!
Kay Warren in her book Say Yes to God, describes compassion like this: “Compassion is about making a decision. It’s not an emotion… Expressing compassion is a deliberate choice [to embrace pain that is not your own] … We are most like Christ when we choose to offer the gift of our presence and choose to absorb within ourselves the suffering of the least, the last, and the lost. Are you looking for Jesus? That’s where you’ll find him.”
We find Jesus reaching out and touching those who are suffering—the least, the last, and the lost. He reached out and he touched the leper and he said, “I am willing. Be clean.” With that touch years of suffering and shame were loved away and the man was made whole again. And then Jesus commands the man to, “…go, show yourself to the priest and offer the sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing, as a testimony to them.” (Mark 1:44)
It would be really easy for us to skip over this part of the story. After all, the guy is healed and that’s what’s really important. And yet the Holy Spirit thought it was important to include this part of the story in the Bible. A lot of things Jesus did and said didn’t make it into the Bible. But this did. What does it mean? Offer what sacrifices that Moses commanded for your cleansing?
The answer is found in the fourteenth chapter of Leviticus. There it tells us about the sacrifice needed for our cleansing. It says, “[The priest] is to slaughter the lamb in the holy place where the sin offering and the burnt offering are slaughtered . . . The priest is to take some of the blood of the guilt offering and put it on the lobe of the right ear of the one to be cleansed, on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot.” (Leviticus 14:13-14) This is how a leper is restored to his community. The blood of a lamb makes him clean.
If we back up in Leviticus to chapter 8, we find an identical sacrifice. This time it’s for a priest, to make a priest clean. Beginning with verse 23 we read, “Moses slaughtered the ram and took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear, on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot. Moses also brought Aaron’s sons [who were all being called into the priesthood. He called them] forward and put some of the blood on the lobes of their right ears, on the thumbs of their right hands and on the big toes of their right feet.” (Leviticus 8:23-24)
Here’s the point: WHETHER YOU ARE A LEPER OR A PRIEST, IT IS THE SAME SACRIFICE THAT CLEANSES US ALL. We who live this side of the cross recognize that the blood of lambs was but a precursor or a foreshadowing of what was to come. Jesus Christ came into the world to offer himself up as the perfect, spotless Lamb of God whose sacrifice makes us clean and restores us to a right relationship with God. He is the Lamb that taketh away the sins of the world. Our sins are washed away by His blood. No matter who you are or what you have done in life, it is by the sacrifice of the Perfect Lamb of God that you are made clean and acceptable in God’s sight. We all must come to Him for cleansing. It is by His blood that we are saved.
Pastor Buddy Owens talks about living in Dorset County, England, in a small town called Lytchett Minster when he was fifteen years old. He and his family attended a parish church that was established over 1000 years ago. One day the vicar was showing him around and as they walked outside and around the corner, Buddy noticed an opening in the church wall. It was about six inches wide and about three feet tall right at ground level. He thought it looked like the kind of opening you would see on top of a castle wall where archers would stand to fire arrows out at an enemy. But why was it there? So he asked, “Why would you need archers in a church?” The vicar said, “That’s not what that’s for. That’s called The Lepers’ Squint. Its where the lepers would stand to try to hear what was happening in the church. A thousand years ago when this church was built, leprosy was still very common. Lepers were not allowed in the church and this was put there so they could listen to what was going on. They could stand outside looking in through the squint, but they were not allowed to come inside to worship. They were considered unclean.”
Jesus sets an example for us by the way he reached out to the outcast. He sets and example for in the way he reached out and touched a man who was considered “unclean.” He sets an example for us, showing us what it means to have mercy and show compassion to others. We are to be His hands and feet in the world, doing for others what they cannot do for themselves. Offering them a way to be made whole. Offering them a way to be made clean. Whether you are a leper or a priest, or anyone in between, it is the same sacrifice that makes us clean, that makes us whole, that makes us acceptable in God’s sight.
We all must ask ourselves: WHAT CAN I DO TO SHOW COMPASSION TO THOSE WHO NEED IT MOST? How can we follow Jesus’ example? How can we truly be Christ-like to those who are the outcasts, to those who are rejected by society, to those who are carrying heavy burdens of shame and guilt? We cannot let our fears hold us back. We are called to engage with and minister to the lepers in our world, the people others shun and look down on, the people others are afraid of.
If we act with compassion toward those who need it most, there will be a price to pay. It will not be easy. We may get our hands dirty. Those who consider themselves “clean” may find fault with us and accuse us of being “unclean” by association. But if we refuse to show compassion to those who need it most, we put ourselves at risk for Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful for they will receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7) When you refuse to show mercy to others, you put yourself at risk of being cut off from the flow of God’s mercy. His mercy is to flow though you on its way to others. We cannot escape the truth that: SHOWING MERCY TO OTHERS IS THE KEY TO HAVING OUR PRAYERS ANSWERED. Showing mercy to others is the key to having God show mercy to us by answering our prayers and helping us when we most need his help. And it’s not just to be a one day a year thing. Showing mercy to those who need it most is to be a lifestyle.
The Bible says, “Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: ‘Here am I.’ If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail. Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.” (Isaiah 58:5-12)

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