There are many words that are used to describe the person and character of God. One of those terms by which God describes Himself is merciful.
On the occasion when Moses asked to see God’s glory:
And the Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth,
Nearly forty years later Moses, while giving his parting sermon to the nation of Israel said this:
(for the Lord your God is a merciful God), He will not forsake you nor destroy you, nor forget the covenant of your fathers which He swore to them.
The psalmists also referred to God as merciful:
With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful; With a blameless man You will show Yourself blameless;
The Lord is merciful and gracious, Slow to anger, and abounding in mercy.
Presently for my personal devotional time I am studying the Book of Joel. Joel ministered during the time of the divided kingdom. Through him, the Lord rebuked Judah, the southern kingdom, of turning away from Him. Through Joel, the Lord said this:
“Yet even now,” declares the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.
There are several Hebrew terms for merciful are sometimes translated as kind or compassionate. In their noun forms they are sometimes translated as loving-kindness.
Since mercy is a God-like characteristic it shouldn’t surprise us to see Jesus as One who displayed great mercy. That is because Jesus is God! What is surprising is the response of the religious leaders of Israel to the various demonstrations of Jesus’ mercy.
Our passage today, , is an example of both Jesus’ mercy and the Pharisees’ lack thereof. It is set in the context of the rising tide of tension between the religious leaders of Israel, and Jesus of Nazareth. These leaders refused to confess Jesus as their Messiah because He did not fit into their concept of what a Messiah should be.
Last week we saw that the Pharisees were upset with Jesus’ disciples for breaking their man-made Sabbath regulations. In addressing this issue Jesus made the startling statement that something greater than the temple is here — meaning that He is greater than the temple. The temple was the place where the children of Israel offered their blood sacrifices on the mercy seat, each year, in order to obtain God’s mercy in regards to their sinful condition. But Jesus is greater than the temple, and the sacrificial system that it represents in so many ways, one of which is that He would become the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world by offering Himself as a “once-for-all” sacrifice for His people.
As we go through this passage this morning we will look at frustration & mercy, the conspiracy to destroy Jesus, and the characteristics of a merciful Savior.
One thing that I would like for you to reflect on this morning is that as believers in Jesus Christ we are to imitate Him. One of the most powerful ways in which we can imitate Him is by showing mercy and compassion to those who are in need.
Look with me at as we consider Jesus’ frustration and His demonstration of compassionate mercy.
The first thing that I want you to see is that Jesus was frustrated by the indifference of the Pharisees regarding the miserable condition of this man with a withered hand.
We have noted before that the various Gospel writers highlight things that are in keeping with their own unique purpose in writing. Though Matthew, Mark, and Luke often wrote about the same events, they often did so with a different emphasis. Matthew emphasized the discourses of Jesus, but gave abbreviated accounts of the miracles that the Lord performed. On the other hand, Mark emphasized the miracles and gave abbreviated accounts of the discourses. From Mark’s account we learn of Jesus’ frustration with the Pharisees.
Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. And he said to the man with the withered hand, “Come here.” And he said to them, “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” But they were silent. And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.
Frustrated may be too mild of a term. In this instance the Lord was filled with holy indignation. In modern terms we might say He was royally ticked! Why was that? This man with the withered hand was most probably a regular member of their synagogue. He had probably been in this condition for some time. But the religious leaders did not care about his well-being. They only sought to use him as a means for their own end.
Is that not similar to today’s political world. People who have never known what it is to be poor, or even to be a blue collar worker, market themselves as the poor-person’s candidate. Not because they have great compassion on the poor, but because they believe that is the best way to get themselves elected to office. Then once in office they forget all about the poor and just push their own agenda. In other words, they use the poor as a means to their own end.
Notice the trick question that they put forward in an attempt to find a reason to accuse Jesus: “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” Lawful according to whose standard? The Pharisees added an extra burden by adding extrabiblical requirements; thus they added to God’s Word. They chose to diminish the command to love your neighbor as yourself —
‘None of you shall approach any blood relative of his to uncover nakedness; I am the Lord.
‘You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.
The rule of the Pharisees was that it was only acceptable to heal if it was necessary to save a life. And since this man’s condition was not life-threatening, in their minds, it was illegal for Jesus to heal him on the Sabbath.
But of course Jesus is the Lord of the Sabbath, and as such it is His divine right to determine when and when not to heal.
Before moving on I would like to address, for a moment, the idea of righteous indignation. Though I certainly believe that it is possible for people to experience and even express righteous indignation, I also believe that is so easy to turn it into sin. Remember, we are not Jesus Christ. He did not have a sin nature such as you and I have, therefore He could express indignation without going too far. But since we do have a sin nature we must be very careful or else it will go too far.
Our society today is filled with people who think that it is there right to express their anger, even if doing so brings harm to someone else. Let the events of this week, with the shooting of Congressmen Steve Scalise be a reminder that as believers we are to control our anger.
Let’s turn our attention now to the costly nature of mercy.
Not too long ago I listened to a sermon online on
Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.
The speaker pointed out that bearing someone else’s burdens is costly. As a matter of fact, if it is not costly to us then we are not really bearing their burden. We are not commanded to bear other’s burdens when it is convenient for us to do so. Or to do so only when it doesn’t cost us anything. No, sacrificial service is costly and it should be. David once refused to offer any sacrifice that cost him nothing.
Some might argue that it did not cost Jesus anything to bear this man’s burden by healing his infirmity. But I would argue that it cost him a great deal. Jesus willingly stepped into the trap that was set for Him because He knew that healing this man was the right thing to do. (By the way, did you notice that the text did not say anything about this man being healed because he had faith in Jesus? Though faith is certainly a requirement for spiritual healing, it was not necessarily a requirement for physical healing).
The cost for Jesus on this occasion was that
The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him.
Let’s turn our attention now to the conspiracy to destroy Jesus.
As we consider the conspiracy to destroy we will look first at the conspiracy itself, and then Jesus’ reaction to it.
What was the reason for the Pharisees seeking to destroy Jesus? Most likely it was not so much because of the supposed Sabbath-breaking as much as the challenge to the authority of the Pharisees. Look back at for a moment. Notice that first phrase: “But I say to you.” That is the same phrase Jesus used in the Sermon on the Mount over and over again as He challenged the errant teachings of the spiritual leaders of first century Israel. The supposed Sabbath-breaking was the occasion for their conspiracy rather than the reason for it.
David L. Turner, in his commentary on Matthew (Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, MI, 2008, pg. 314) notes:
It is not a little ironic that a dispute over the finer points of Sabbath law leads the Pharisees to plan to break the sixth commandment.
“You shall not murder.
Look with me for a moment at as we consider Jesus’ reaction to the plot to kill Him.
How did Jesus become aware of this plot to kill Him? The text simply does not say. We can speculate that someone who was loyal to Him heard of it and brought it too His attention. As possible as that might be, we must not forget who Jesus is; He is the Eternal Son of God. He is the Creator and Sustainer of life. He is the omnipotent, omniscient God who knows everything, including what was in the hearts and minds of these Pharisees and Herodians. In case you may have forgotten, He also knows what is in our hearts and minds as well.
How did Jesus react to this plot? He made a strategic withdrawal. Notice that as He withdrew from there many followed Him. Apparently those who followed after Him had physical infirmities because Matthew tells us that He healed them all. What a wonderful merciful Savior!
The Greek term that is translated “servant” in verse 18 is “pais;” this term is not the usual term for servant in the N.T. It can mean “child — one’s own offspring;” or “slave, servant, or attendant.” John MacArthur wrote (; pg. 297):
Jesus Christ is God’s supreme Servant, His only Son whom He has chosen to redeem the world.
R.C. Sproul wrote: (Matthew, 2013, Crossway, Wheaton, IL, pg. 370):
In the biblical doctrine of election, the supreme elect One is the Son. All else who are elected by the sovereign God are elected in Him. So, any discussion about election must begin with the election of Jesus Christ.
Last year when we were studying 1 Peter we looked at this passage:
He indeed was foreordained before the foundation of the world, but was manifest in these last times for you
Not only was Christ chosen from before the foundation of the world, but so were we who are believers in Jesus Christ.
just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him. In love
to the praise of the glory of His grace, which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace
Jesus testfied that He always did what pleased the Father. In this context there is the notion of Jesus being the only acceptabe sacrifice. His was substitutionary death, and only that, which pleased the Father in terms of redemption.
The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus in the form of a dove at His baptism. But long before that He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and filled with Him from birth. How is it that the Eternal Son of God was or even needed to be filled or empowered with the Holy Spirit?
First of all, the coming of the Spirit upon Jesus was a bestowing of power to His human nature.
Second, Jesus requried the anointing of the Spirit in oder to attest to His royal service as the Messiah.
(Macarthur; pg. 298)
The term translated “quarrel” carries the idea of wrangling, hassling, or even brawling. The term translated “cry out” means to shout or scream exitedly — as in one who insights a mob to riot.
As we close today, we need to reflect on this wonderful, merciful Savior. If we have been redeemed by the blood of the lamb, then we too are children of God in Christ. As the Apostle John stated it:
How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.
Closing Song: WONDERFUL, MERCIFUL SAVIOR