One of the hallmarks of Jesus’ life and teaching was mercy. From his birth to the cross, Jesus mission was one of mercy to those who had rejected God. Jesus taught, ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven’. Love is more than showing mercy, but mercy is an essential part of love.
Jesus gives three reasons in the passage why you should be merciful towards those who have wronged you:
First, to have mercy on your enemies is to imitate your Father in heaven – ‘that you may be children of your Father in heaven’ (v.45a). God’s mercy extends to those who are hostile towards him: ‘He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (v.45b).
Second, to have mercy like this marks you out from the world: ‘If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?’ (v.46). We tend only to love people who are like us, or whom we like. But you are called to be different. You are called to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to as ‘the “extraordinary”… the hallmark of the Christian’.
Third, there is a connection between forgiving and receiving forgiveness. We cannot receive God’s mercy ourselves and then show no mercy to others. We do not earn forgiveness by forgiving others, but Jesus says that our forgiveness of others is essential to receiving forgiveness from God. ‘You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part’ (6:14b–15, MSG). Daily, receive mercy and forgiveness, and daily have mercy and forgive others.
Jesus also explains how you can express this mercy practically in what you do. He highlights the importance of prayer. He tells you to ‘pray for those who persecute you’ (5:44). Praying for your enemies helps you to see them as God sees them. In prayer you stand side by side with them, take their guilt and distress on yourself, and plead to God for them. Prayer is the litmus-test of love. Coming into the light of God’s presence reveals the true feelings in the depths of our hearts.
— Nicky Gumbel (from the Bible in One Year Devotional)
1) Consider that in Romans 5:10, the Apostle Paul says that we were once enemies of God. In love, God sent his own Son to those in living in rebellion. Reflect on how you, as a former enemy of God, have received God’s mercy through Christ?
2) Who in your life has wronged you? Often we carry around resentment and bitterness from past injuries. What if you began to pray and earnestly plead to God for that person?
*Sometimes people hurt our feelings. They say or do unkind things to us. When that happens what do you want to do? Sometimes we do things that hurt God, what does he do in response? What are some things you could to do be more like God when someone hurts your feelings?
**Lord, thank you that even when we forget you or hurt you, you still love us. Even though the whole world rejected you, you sent your son Jesus into the world to die for us because you loved us. Help us to love and forgive people like you do, even when they are unkind to us.