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God’s Word for You

Luke 6:36 Be merciful

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, January 24, 2018

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

The two verbs in this sentence preach a whole sermon. Behind both of these verbs is the gospel of God’s grace and mercy. The first one is Jesus’ command to us: “be.” The second one is the motivation for the first, and it is a simple statement of fact: “is.”

With the word “be,” Jesus expresses something he wants to have happen in us. That something is that we would be or become merciful. Mercy is a human attitude beginning with sympathy or pity, especially for someone who is grieving. But it extends to someone who is in a difficult situation apart from grief, such as a person who owes a debt, or who is ill, or who is an orphan, and so on.

Jesus wants us to act with mercy in any circumstance, and our motivation for that is in the simple declarative statement: “Just as your Father is merciful.” Here is the “is,” the statement of fact. And it’s worth noticing that there could be more than one way of saying this in Greek, but Jesus chooses the one that’s the simplest Greek of all and which teaches us that God the Father is always merciful. It’s not as if the Father was merciful only once, even if that would mean the one time when it really counted. No. The Father is more than that; more than we expect. The Father is always merciful. In fact, by using “is” (Greek estin, ἐστίν), Jesus tells us that “merciful” is a word we can use to define God. It’s one of God’s attributes.

The attributes of God are usually categorized in two ways: those which say what he is not (the negative attributes), and those which say what he is (the positive attributes). The negative attributes are things like his unity, his simplicity, his immutability (he does not change), his infinity (no beginning or end), his omnipresence, and his eternity. The positive attributes include life, knowledge (omniscience), wisdom, and finally his will. This last attribute, his divine will, includes his holiness, justice, truthfulness, power (omnipotence), and a whole cluster of related qualities such as his goodness, mercy, love, grace, patience, and so on.

In the case of God’s mercy, this is his compassion and goodness expressed toward mankind. Our sin is brought before God and he knows how miserable we are (“miserable” in this case is our condition seen from both the inside and from the outside). Zechariah took the baby Jesus in his arms and confessed: “Through the tender mercy of our God… the Dayspring from on high has visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:78-79, King James Version). So God’s mercy and compassion have lifted us out of our miserable condition and set our feet on solid ground like cleansed lepers, and we stand forgiven and drawn to the feet of our Savior to listen to “the one thing needed” (Luke 10:42). The more we hear the story of God’s mercy, the more we are spurred on to be merciful. Maybe for the first couple of hundred opportunities we have, we’re not merciful at all. But as the gospel sinks in and as the Holy Spirit works in us, and as from time to time we get a glimpse of ourselves as the sinners we are, we begin to dip our toes into the pool of mercy. And even for those meager and miserable attempts, heaven rejoices. So let’s keep trying. Let’s keep “becoming” merciful, knowing that in this lifetime we will never find the limit of mercy—neither how merciful we can possibly be, nor how merciful God has been to us.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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