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Finding Happiness (Part 5)

Matthew 5:7

“Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.” (KJV)

Over the past few weeks we’ve studied the steps toward happiness that Jesus gave us in the Sermon on the Mount.  The path to happiness begins by admitting, that when it comes to spiritual things, I am totally bankrupt before a Holy God.  Reflection upon my spiritual depravity causes me to mourn. Because my heart is broken by my sin, I submit myself to God’s control and make the pursuit of righteousness my primary objective in life.

These steps toward happiness are inward ones, involving spiritual reflection, rechanneled energy and changed priorities.  They are changes in our internal world. The next step is an outward step resulting in changed behavior toward others.  Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.”

Every righteous person has a choice; they can use their righteousness to hurt others or to help them. It is possible for a righteous person to become vindictive and cold-hearted. 

That’s what happened with the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son.   The younger son took his inheritance and squandered it living “high on the hog,” until he was flat broke eating pig slop for dinner.  When he realized his life stunk, he decided to go home and ask his father to give him a job.  He knew he’d already squandered his inheritance and the right to live under his father’s blessings.  He wasn’t asking for his father to treat him like nothing happened, he just wanted a decent job and a just boss.  When he returned, his father met him with mercy, forgiving his trespasses and threw him a party.

The older son wasn’t happy about his brother’s return.  He could not understand how his father could show mercy to a disobedient son and became angry with him because he did. Didn't the older son notice the heartbreak of his father? Couldn't he rejoice with him that his son returned home? If he really knew his father, he would have anticipated a gracious response to his errant brother's return.  His defense was that he’d remained faithful; he played by the rules—in short, he was righteous.  But because he couldn’t be merciful, his righteousness wasn’t from God, it was self-righteousness. Matthew 9:10-13 gives an example of self-righteousness.  It says, “While He was reclining at the table in the house, many tax collectors and sinners came as guests to eat with Jesus and His disciples. [11] When the Pharisees saw this, they asked His disciples, ‘Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?’ [12] But when He heard this, He said, ‘Those who are well don’t need a doctor, but the sick do. [13] Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy and not sacrifice. For I didn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.’” (HCSB)  These men were righteous, they knew how to keep the law, but without mercy, they were nothing more than self-righteous hypocrites.  They did not submit themselves to God’s righteousness.  Romans 10:3 says, “For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.” (NASB95)

Many people stumble on the way from the 4th to the 5th step of happiness.  They take their eyes off the Father and put them on themselves, become proud of their righteousness and tumble down the stairs, needing to begin the process again, admitting their own spiritual bankruptcy before God.

In Matthew 18:23-35 Jesus tells a parable about a man who was happy to receive mercy, but not willing to extend it.  "The Kingdom of Heaven can be compared to a king who decided to bring his accounts up to date. [24] In the process, one of his debtors was brought in who owed him $10 million! [25] He couldn't pay, so the king ordered him sold for the debt, also his wife and children and everything he had. [26] But the man fell down before the king, his face in the dust, and said, 'Oh, sir, be patient with me and I will pay it all.' [27] Then the king was filled with pity for him and released him and forgave his debt. [28] But when the man left the king, he went to a man who owed him $2,000 and grabbed him by the throat and demanded instant payment. [29] The man fell down before him and begged him to give him a little time. 'Be patient and I will pay it,' he pled. [30] But his creditor wouldn't wait. He had the man arrested and jailed until the debt would be paid in full. [31] Then the man's friends went to the king and told him what had happened. [32] And the king called before him the man he had forgiven and said, 'You evil-hearted wretch! Here I forgave you all that tremendous debt, just because you asked me to--[33] shouldn't you have mercy on others, just as I had mercy on you?' [34] Then the angry king sent the man to the torture chamber until he had paid every last penny due. [35] So shall my heavenly Father do to you if you refuse to truly forgive your brothers.’” (TLB) 

Don’t stumble between the 4th and 5th step. Don't let your righteousness become harshness.  Actually, without mercy, you don’t have righteousness. Psalm 37:21 says, “The wicked borroweth, and payeth not again: but the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth.”  (KJV)

Don’t let your righteousness become useless.  Without mercy, your righteousness is wasted. James 2:15-16 says, “If you have a friend who is in need of food and clothing, [16] and you say to him, ‘Well, good-bye and God bless you; stay warm and eat hearty,’ and then don't give him clothes or food, what good does that do?” (TLB)

I for one don’t think the main character of the parable of the prodigal son is the prodigal—it is the older brother.  If you put yourself in the role of the prodigal, the grace and mercy of the Father makes perfect sense—as  it always does when we are on the receiving end of forgiveness.  The parable isn’t so much about the prodigal’s reaction as it is the older brother’s reaction.  Receiving mercy is never hard—being merciful is.  It wasn’t as hard for the father as it was for the brother.  Fathers, I’m sure you will agree with me that it is easier to forgive our sons than it is our brothers.  My boys will always have a soft place in my heart.  Though I can see their mistakes, I usually can overlook them quickly because I know their potential. 

When I read this story, I wonder if the brother has the first clue about the father’s heart.  If he knew his father’s heart, he would have anticipated his loving response to his brother’s sin and would have been happy for him that his son had returned.

The merciful press into God, and know His heart, they feel his heartbeat and to move with it. Our relationship with God is the air we breathe-the very source of our existence. It is a great dance. God moves and we respond with His slightest touch or softest whisper. He guides us from one end of the floor to the other. We trust Him and He entrusts us with His Kingdom work. With time, a deep love develops on our end that has existed on His from eternity. Not a love based on what He does for us or what we do for Him, but just out of a sense of belonging to one another and being together in time and in eternity.

Don't you long for that? Not a religion that defines you by what you don't do or what you do, but one that releases the spirit within you and allows you to synchronize your soul with your Creator and empowers you to move with the rhythm of his love.  You will never learn to dance with God until you have a merciful heart.  Because if you have a judgmental, self-righteous spirit you are out of step with God.  Proverbs 28:13 says, “The one who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them will find mercy.” (HCSB)

Great mean of God are merciful.  Abraham was merciful to his nephew Lot and worked toward his deliverance (Gen 14:1-6). Joseph showed mercy to his brothers who’d harmed him by helping to sustain their lives (Gen 50:15-21).   David was merciful to King Saul and spared his life when God delivered Saul into his hands (I Sam 24:1-22; 26:1- 25).   And Moses showed mercy toward Miriam after her rebellion.  He cried to the Lord, “Heal her now, O God, I beseech Thee" (Num 12:13).

In an episode entitled Monk takes Manhattan, Mr. Monk travels to New York to search for his wife’s killer.  At the end of the episode, he meets the man, who for a couple thousand dollars placed a bomb under her car.  The man was near death, laying in a hospital bed, hooked up to a morphine drip.  As Monk finished his questioning, the man asked, “Forgive me.”  Mr. Monk walked over to the morphine drip, turned it off while saying, “This is me turning off your morphine.”  A few seconds later, he turned it back on saying, “This is Trudy turning it back on.” premium members view video

Mr. Monk’s action was just—punishing his wife’s killer.  Trudy’s action was merciful—forgiving him. 

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