Blessed Are the Merciful

Matthew 5:7

Today, we continue our study of the Beatitudes in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount by looking at Matthew 5:7, “Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.” Remember that Jesus gave the Beatitudes to show the spiritual realities of those who are part of Christ’s kingdom. Those who are a part of the Kingdom of God or the Kingdom of Heaven will show evidence of these attributes in their lives. They describe the character of a believer, a disciple of Jesus. They reflect attitudes of the heart that affect how we relate to God and how we relate to other people. 

We have seen that the order of these beatitudes is important. The first three beatitudes reveal to us our deep need for God’s grace. The first reminds us that we must come to God “poor in spirit”, recognizing our spiritual bankruptcy before God. The second, reminds us that we must come mourning over the sin that put us in that wretched condition. And the third, reminds us that we must come meekly and in humility as unworthy sinners. Only those who come in this manner will receive the blessing of the kingdom of heaven; will be comforted; and will inherit the earth. Then the fourth beatitude teaches us how blessed those are who come to God desperately hungering and thirsting for righteousness, because they will be filled. God grants His gracious gift of righteousness to them through Jesus Christ. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Cor. 5:21).

John MacArthur points out that each of the first four Beatitudes connects to  the next four. Those who are poor in spirit (Matt. 5:3) acknowledge their need of God’s mercy and thus are willing to show mercy to others (Matt. 5:7). Those who mourn with repentance over their sin (Matt 5:4) desire their hearts to be cleansed and thus they become the pure in heart (Matt 5:8). The meek or gentle have humbled themselves before God (Matt. 5:5) and thus become those who make peace with others (Matt. 5:9) because they are not concerned with their own will but God’s. And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt 5:6) are willing to be persecuted for the sake of righteousness (Matt. 5:10).[1] The first four may be regarded as describing the initial and on-going attitudes of heart in one who has been awakened by the Spirit, whereas the next four describe the subsequent fruits of these attitudes.[2]

I don’t know about you, but studying these beatitudes has certainly caused me to examine my own attitudes. They have made me see how much more I really need to grow in the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ. Someone has said that we behave the most like God when we show mercy to those in need. If that’s true, then my lack of compassion and mercy reminds me how far from Christ’s likeness I am. I know how unworthy I am to preach to you about being merciful. Instead, I feel that I ought to cry out to God for mercy myself.

I encourage you, as we study this beatitude together, to allow the Holy Spirit to examine your heart and life. Let God’s word do the work of sanctification in you to make more like Christ, merciful.

Let’s begin then by asking . . .

1. What does it mean to be merciful?[3]

Let’s begin with the word “mercy”. John Stott defined it simply as compassion for people in need.[4] A.W. Pink mercy is “a holy compassion of soul, whereby one is moved to pity and go to the relief of another in misery.” [5] Another says it “embraces the characteristics of being generous, forgiving others, having compassion for the suffering, and providing healing of every kind.”[6]

The Puritan preacher Thomas Watson wrote that mercy is “a melting disposition whereby we lay to heart the miseries of others and are ready on all occasions to be instrumental for their good.”[7] Think about that definition with me. First, it’s “a melting disposition”; a condition of heart where the sight of someone in need does not harden me but softens me; it “melts my heart”. Second, it’s one in which I take the misery of others carefully to heart; I consider it and consider what I should do about it. Third, drives me to action; I am “ready in all occasions to be an instrument for their good.” I like Watson’s definition, because it shows how “mercy” includes the heart, mind, and will. When we see someone in misery, true mercy causes us to feel about it, to think deeply about it, and to act to relieve that misery.

“Mercy” is often related to the idea of “grace”; but they are really two distinct things. In Ephesians 2, Paul shows them both to be acts of God’s love in saving us from sin. He writes, “But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Eph. 2:4-5). One scholar explained the difference between “mercy” and “grace” in this way: the central idea of “grace” is God’s unmerited love (that is, in the free grace and gift He displays in forgiving the sins of the guilty); but the central idea of “mercy” is that of relieving the misery that those sins have brought about.[8] In love, God gives grace for our sin and mercy for our misery as a result of sin. Mercy relieves us of the judgment we deserve; grace gives us the blessing of God we do not deserve. Grace is God’s solution to man’s sin. Mercy is God’s solution to man’s misery.

Like grace, mercy is an attribute of God. Mercy is not a product of nature—watch a few minutes of any wildlife documentary and you will see how brutal nature is. And mercy doesn’t start with man. It’s not in fallen human nature to show mercy. MacArthur says, “Man without mercy is evil. Man without mercy is hostile. Man without mercy is angry, and we’re seeing it in full view today. The absence of mercy just rips and shreds and tears all of the tenderness out of a person. It creates nothing but hard surfaces and sharp edges.”[9] Mercy has its beginning in the person and character of a holy God.

Did you know that, when God revealed His character and nature to Moses, “mercy” was a key part of the description? God passed before Moses, and proclaimed:

The LORD, the LORD God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, by no means clearing the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generation (Exodus 34:6-7).

God makes clear in this revelation of Himself that He does not simply pass by sin and leave it unpunished. But twice in this self-declaration, God makes mention of His own character of “mercy”. There are two different words Hebrew words for “mercy” here: one that refers to God’s tender compassion (רַחוּם raḥûm, “merciful”), and another that refers to His steadfast love (חֶסֶד ḥeseḏ, “mercy”). God wants us to know that He is a merciful God. Psalm 62:12 says, “to You, O Lord, belongs mercy”. James 5:11 tells us that “the Lord is very compassionate and merciful”. Psalm 86 says “For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, And abundant in mercy to all those who call upon You. But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.” (Psa. 86:5, 15). Lamentations says ” Through the LORD’s mercies we are not consumed, Because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; Great is Your faithfulness.” (Lam. 3:22-23). The Psalms repeatedly say, “Oh, give thanks to the LORD, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” (Psa. 136:1)

The best illustration of mercy is Jesus. Was there ever anyone more merciful than Him? Matthew 9:36 says, “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary[fn] and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd.” Matthew 14:14 says, “And when Jesus went out He saw a great multitude; and He was moved with compassion for them, and healed their sick.” Before He fed the 5000 Jesus said to His disciples, “I have compassion on the multitude, because they have now continued with Me three days and have nothing to eat.” (Matthew 15:32). Blind men would cry out to Him, “Have mercy on us, O Lord, Son of David” (Matt. 20:31) and “Jesus had compassion and touched their eyes. And immediately their eyes received sight” (Matt. 20:34).

Jesus was compassionate and merciful toward those who this world would say didn’t deserve mercy. He was merciful to the woman that was caught in the act of adultery saying, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11). He ate with tax collectors and sinners, a definite sign of His mercy toward the outcasts. He even prayed for those who crucified Him; saying, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34). No man ever walked this earth that was more filled with mercy than our wonderful Lord Jesus!

If that is what “mercy” is, what does it mean for us to be merciful?

Most of the examples of the use of the word “mercy” in the Gospel of Matthew point to forgiveness. In Matthew 6:12-15, the “Lord’s Prayer,” we find the prayer for forgiveness based upon a corresponding attitude of forgiveness in the believer: “And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors.” Then Jesus explains, ” 14 “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Matt. 6:14-15). The message is clear: those who are forgiven and who desire forgiveness demonstrate forgiveness toward those who have wronged them.

In Matthew 9:10-13, Jesus quotes from Hosea 6:6, when explaining to the Pharisees that complained he had eaten with sinners. Jesus tells them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” The characteristic that is to be evident in those who know the Lord is not a ritualism or outward ceremony like that of the Pharisees, but compassion or mercy that shows forgiveness toward others.

And again, in Matthew 18:21-35, Peter asks the question about how often he was to forgive his brother that sinned against him. Peter thought he did well in stretching it to up to seven times. But Jesus tells him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven,” that is, an unlimited amount of forgiveness. Then Jesus tells the parable of the servant that owed the king a debt that he could never repay. When he begged for mercy, his master forgave the enormous debt. But instead of showing the same kind of mercy, he threw one of his fellow slaves into prison because he had not repaid him a small debt. Jesus makes His point: “Should you not also have had compassion (mercy) on your fellow servant, just as I had pity (mercy) on you?” (Matt. 18:33). Then Jesus applies it to His disciples, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” (Matt. 18:35). Jesus calls this an act of mercy. We forgive, not because the other person necessarily deserves it, rather because we ourselves were shown mercy in the Lord forgiving us.[10]

The other incidence of mercy in Matthew comes in Matthew 12 in reference to the Pharisees complaint about his disciples picking the heads of grain on the Sabbath because they were hungry. Jesus rebukes their legalism and attention to ritualism while failing to recognize the physical need of these men saying, “But if you had known what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the guiltless.” (Matt. 12:7). In this context Jesus teaches us that mercy demands benevolent action.

To be merciful is to behave toward the misery of others like God did toward us in our misery. To be merciful means to seeing the need and misery of someone else, to be moved with compassion toward them, not closing up, but allowing ourselves to feel their need as if it were our own, taking their need up as our own cause, and giving ourselves to the meeting of that need. Jesus teaches in Luke, “But love your enemies, do good, and lend, hoping for nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High. For He is kind to the unthankful and evil. Therefore be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven.” (Luke 6:35-37). To be merciful is to treat others as God has treated us. It is to be like God.

And when Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful …” Jesus isn’t speaking of an occasional, guilt-driven burst of temporary charity. Rather, He is referring to those whose bent is to show mercy—that is, whose very habit of life it is to be merciful. Our God is a merciful God and shows mercy continuously; the citizens of his kingdom must show mercy too.[11]

  1. What blessing do the merciful receive?

The blessing corresponds exactly to the state of being to which the beatitude calls us: mercy is the blessing promised to those who are merciful).

I want us to be careful how we understand this and not interpret this to mean that mercy toward others somehow “merits” mercy from God. If we could earn mercy, it would not be mercy. Why will only merciful people find mercy from God in the judgment day, if salvation is by grace through faith?

John Stott says, that it

is not because we can merit mercy by mercy or forgiveness by forgiveness, but because we cannot receive the mercy and forgiveness of God unless we repent, and we cannot claim to have repented of our sins if we are unmerciful towards the sins of others. Nothing moves us to forgive like the wondering knowledge that we have ourselves been forgiven. Nothing proves more clearly that we have been forgiven than our own readiness to forgive. To forgive and to be forgiven, to show mercy and to receive mercy: these belong indissolubly together, as Jesus illustrated in his parable of the unmerciful servant.[12]

Ephesians 4:32 says, “And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.” Similarly, Colossians 3:13 says that we are to “put on” the character qualities of Christ: “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” The disciple of Jesus Christ must be merciful because he has received mercy. We must forgive because we have been forgiven.

And did you know that the Bible gives us several promises that reveal the blessedness of those who show mercy? The Bible tells us that the merciful will be shown mercy by God in that he or she will be blessed in a time of trouble. Psalm 41:1-2 says, “Blessed is he who considers the poor; The LORD will preserve him in time of trouble. The LORD will preserve him and keep him alive, and he will be blessed on the earth; You will not deliver him to the will of his enemies. The LORD will strengthen him on his bed of illness; You will sustain him on his sickbed.”

Proverbs 11:25 says, “The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters will also be watered himself.” In Luke, after Jesus commanded us to “be merciful, just as your Father also is merciful,” He said,”Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38).

God promises to show mercy to the merciful disciple by blessing him or her with richness of soul. Proverbs 11:16-17 says, “The gracious woman retains honor, but ruthless men retain riches. The merciful man does good for his own soul, but he who is cruel troubles his own flesh.” Similarly, Proverbs 14:21 says, “He who despises his neighbor sins; but he who has mercy on the poor, happy is he.”

And of course, we have the promise that God shows mercy on the merciful man or woman by blessing him or her with future rewards. Will you need mercy when you stand before God? Indeed, even when we stand before Him we have no merits to offer God; we have nothing to bring Him that will commend us to Him. So what do we need? Mercy! And that is the whole point Jesus makes. Those who have received mercy in this life through Christ will demonstrate it by the way they are merciful toward others; and they now have the double assurance of mercy for them in the future.

Thomas Watson offered this explanation for the promise attached to this beatitude:

You shall be paid with over-plus. For a wedge of gold which you have parted with you shall have a weight of glory. For a cup of cold water you shall have rivers of pleasure, which run at God’s right hand for evermore. The interest comes to infinitely more than the principal. … Your after-crop of glory will be so great that, though you are still reaping, you will never be able to inn the whole harvest.[13]

Thus does God reward His merciful children.

The key to becoming a merciful person is to become a broken person. You get the power to show mercy from the understanding that you owe everything you are and have to sheer divine mercy. Therefore, if we want to become merciful people, it is imperative that we cultivate a view of God and ourselves that helps us to say with all our heart that every joy and virtue and distress of our lives is owing to the free and undeserved mercy of God.


[1] John MacArthur, The Only Way to Happiness: Be Merciful, accessed 09/09/2022

[2] Arthur Walkington Pink, An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2005), 29.

[3] Greg Allen, Mercy to the Merciful, accessed 09/11/2022. I adapted Allen’s outline and drew from some of his points in developing this sermon.

[4] John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 47.

[5] Arthur Walkington Pink, An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2005), 30.

[6] Craig Blomberg, Matthew, vol. 22, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 100.

[7] Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes: An Exposition of Matthew 5:1–12 (WORDsearch, 2008), 143.

[8] Archbishop Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of The New Testament (Grand Rapids: Associated Publishers and Authors, Inc., n.d.), pp. 158-159. Quoted by Greg Allen, Mercy to the Merciful, accessed 09/11/2022.

[9] John MacArthur, The Only Way to Happiness: Be Merciful, accessed 09/09/2022

[10] Phil Newton, accessed 09/09/2022. Copyright South Woods Baptist Church. Website: Used by permission as granted on web site.

[11] John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 47.

[12] John R. W. Stott and John R. W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): Christian Counter-Culture, The Bible Speaks Today (Leicester; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1985), 47–48.

[13] Thomas Watson, The Beatitudes: An Exposition of Matthew 5:1–12 (WORDsearch, 2008), 167.

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