Lesson 6 May 3-9
The Kingdom of Heaven
READ FOR THIS WEEK'S STUDY: Matt. 5:7; 6:12, 14, 15; Exod. 34:6, 7; Luke 6:36; John 3:16; Heb. 2:17; James 2:12, 13.
MEMORY TEXT: "Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy" (Matthew 5:7).
KEY THOUGHT: Satan tries to portray God as a harsh and unmerciful tyrant. But the Scriptures repeatedly reveal a God who is characterized by infinite mercy and grace. It is His desire that we, like Him, show mercy to others, and by so doing, we shall obtain mercy.
LOVE THY NEIGHBOR. The fifth beatitude, the subject of this week's lesson study, confronts Christians with their obligation toward their neighbors, because it is impossible to be merciful without sharing with others what God Himself has in mercy given them. They who have been filled must in turn help nourish those who hunger and thirst in this world in which we live. "Freely ye have received, freely give" (Matt. 10:8) is the Lord's mandate to His disciples.
Jesus Himself is our great example, the supreme manifestation of divine mercy. "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are" (1 John 3:1, RSV). "In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins" (1 John 4:10, RSV).
This love embraces all humanity. God's mercy knows no limit except as it is blocked by the callousness of the sinner's heart. The promise is certain; all who, following our Lord's example, show themselves merciful will obtain mercy.
Current language identifies mercy with compassion or pardon. To give this word all the richness of meaning given it in the Bible, one must add the ideas of active kindness, graciousness, tender pity, and, above all, fidelity. Actually, for the Bible writers, mercy is the coming together of two currents of thought-compassion and faithfulness: God's compassion and faithfulness toward His people, and their fidelity to Him and to His alliance. The merciful, then, are those who follow the example of their heavenly Father and show compassion toward their neighbors, whoever they might be, and who are faithful in their obligations toward God.
How must we understand the promise that Jesus made to the merciful? Matt. 5:7; 7:12.
God promises that whoever is merciful will obtain mercy. Jesus also illustrated this principle in several of His parables. This promise is sure as far as it concerns God's attitude toward us. The children of God can experience it every day of their lives. But in small measure this principle is also verified in people's relationships with one another. "The principle of the golden rule (ch. 7:12) applies both to our treatment of others and to the kind of treatment they accord us in return. The cruel, hardhearted, mean-spirited man rarely receives kind and merciful treatment at the hand of his fellow man. But how often those who are kind and considerate of the needs and feelings of others find that the world often repays them in kind."--SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 5, p. 327.
Unfortunately, sometimes merciful treatment is not repaid in kind. How would you relate to such a situation?
"God imparts His blessing to us that we may impart to others. When we ask Him for our daily bread, He looks into our hearts to see if we will share the same with those more needy than ourselves. When we pray, 'God be merciful to me a sinner,' He watches to see if we will manifest compassion toward those with whom we associate. This is the evidence of our connection with God, that we are merciful even as our Father in heaven is merciful. "--Testimonies, vol. 6, pp. 283, 284.
What does it mean to be merciful in your everyday life? In what tangible ways can you demonstrate mercy to those around you?
Moses had already received a revelation of divine transcendency, when God appeared to him in the burning bush. At that time God revealed His name: "I AM THAT I AM" (Exod. 3:14). At the time of this second manifestation God revealed to Moses-and through him to all His children--the very essence of His character, infinitely "merciful and gracious." All the words used in this disclosure tend to underline the infinite goodness of God toward sinful humanity. The circumstances under which this revelation was made further emphasize His merciful character. It was as though it was God's response to the infidelity of the children of Israel, who had just made a golden calf to worship, and to the righteous anger of Moses (Exodus 32). In reality God had already revealed this trait of character when He wrote His law on the tables of stone that Moses had just broken. There He stated (in the third commandment), "I the Lord thy God am a jealous God.... shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments" (Exod. 20:5, 6).
The following texts show how Bible authors took pleasure in emphasizing the merciful character of God. In the space provided below, write how you would enter into their experience and express your own joy as you contemplate the mercy of God.
Neh. 9:17, 31 __________________________________________
Ps. 86:15 ______________________________________________
Joel 2:13 _____________________________________________
James 5:11 ____________________________________________
Actually the whole Bible repeats again and again the thought, "Father of mercies," as the apostle Paul called Him (2 Cor. 1:3). The authors of the psalms were particularly happy to sing of the unfathomable mercy of God, unto which they never ceased to appeal. They discerned it everywhere, operating throughout all the history of the children of Israel. In all His acts they discovered that "the Lord is merciful and gracious" (Ps. 103:7, 8). Not only is God "rich in mercy. . ." (Eph. 2:4), but He even "delighteth in mercy" (Micah 7:18). (Compare Matt. 12:7.)
To what degree does your personal experience allow you to declare with the psalmist: "All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies"? (Ps. 25:10, RSV).
JESUS, MERCIFUL HIGH PRIEST (John 3:16; Heb. 2:17).
What does God's gift of His only Son reveal about His great love for lost sinners?
God the Father must have loved fallen humanity as much as He loved Jesus His only Son. That is why He was willing to give Him to die on the cross for us. In His mercy He emptied Heaven of its best and most in giving Jesus to earth. "Only He [Jesus] who knew the height and depth of the love of God could make it manifest. Nothing less than the infinite sacrifice made by Christ in behalf of fallen man could express the Father's love to lost humanity. "--Steps to Christ, p. 14.
How did Jesus give evidence of God's mercy in His life and teaching? Luke 4:18, 19; 19:10; Matt. 5:44.
Most of Christ's ministry involved acts of compassion and mercy to the suffering. He delighted to heal all those who were oppressed by Satan. It is recorded that He was often moved with compassion as He touched the hurting people. Great love and mercy were clearly evident in all He did.
What was conferred on Jesus in preparation for His high priesthood in the heavenly sanctuary? Why? Heb. 2:17, 18; 4:14-16.
Jesus was the One who volunteered to give Himself in saving fallen humanity. In His incarnation He became one with the human race in order that He might become acquainted with the suffering and trials that beset us. His love and mercy for us drove Him to become God with us, reaching us at our level. Indeed "God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself" (2 Cor. 5:19). God and His Son have always loved us the same, and Christ's death did not make the Father love us more.
"This great sacrifice was not made in order to create in the Father's heart a love for man, not to make Him willing to save. No, no! 'God so loved the world, that He gave his only-begotten Son.' John 3:16. The Father loves us, not because of the great propitiation, but He provided the propitiation because He loves us. Christ was the medium through which He could pour out His infinite love upon a fallen world."--Steps to Christ, p. 13.
Many Christians believe that Christ"s sacrifice made God more favorable and loving toward us. What do, you think?
In its parallel passage in Matthew's Gospel, this verse reads: "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect" (Matt. 5:48). In other words, the perfection to which Jesus calls His disciples is expressed in the mercy that they show, after the example set by God, not only to those who love them, but also to their enemies, those who hate and persecute them. (See Matt. 5:43-47; Luke 6:27-35.)
The character of God, which has been revealed to us, is our standard for life. We are invited to become more and more like Him. "Be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you. Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children" (Eph. 4:32 through 5:1).
"Every child lives by the life of his father. If you are God's children, begotten by His Spirit, you live by the life of God."--Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 78. "When we are born of our Father, it is normal to resemble Him in our lives. It is like when we say that something runs in the family, or that it is a family tradition. Today we use the expression 'chip off the old block' and 'spitting image.' There is a family likeness, certain characteristics that run in the family and draw others' attention to the parents whom we belong to and resemble."--Philip G. Samaan, Christ's Way to Spiritual Growth (Hagerstown, Md: Review and Herald, 1995), p. 70.
"The merciful are 'partakers of the divine nature,' and in them the compassionate love of God finds expression. All whose hearts are in sympathy with the heart of Infinite Love will seek to reclaim and not to condemn. Christ dwelling in the soul is a spring that never runs dry. Where He abides, there will be an overflowing of beneficence." --Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 22.
Exactly what is the lesson taught in the parable of the good Samaritan? Luke 10:25-37.
This parable is a perfect illustration of God's mercy in dealing with people, as well as a vital demonstration of how the Christians should act toward their neighbors. In truth, the feelings of compassion shown by the Samaritan express the holy emotion that made the Son of God come to earth to save humanity. They are also the sentiments that should impel every Christian toward his or her neighbor, whoever they may be, every time an occasion of need arises.
Toward whom must we be merciful? Is there ever any trace of discrimination when we consider this question?
How did Jesus explain the principle of reciprocity regarding mercy, forgiveness, and judgment? Matt 5:7; 6:12, 14-15; 7:1, 2.
"Jesus teaches that we can receive forgiveness from God only as we forgive others.--Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 113.
The main cause for witholding forgiveness from others who have wronged us is that we have not yet been overwhelmed by the enormity of God's forgiveness to us. His forgiveness means life, and without it we would have been condemned to eternal death. That thought should fill our hearts with such enormous gratitude that forgiving our neighbor's offenses would seem minute in comparison to His forgiveness. We may think that we are justified in witholding forgiveness because those who have offended us have not confessed their wrong. Yes, they need to do that, but we should not wait to do our part, for God is always ready to pardon the sinner. Moreover, if we hold on to an unforgiving spirit against others who have wronged us, we are only injuring ourselves, not only spiritually but physically and mentally, as well.
Show how the parable of the great debtor is a commentary on the principle stated by Jesus. Matt. 18:23-35.
"But the great lesson of the parable lies in the contrast between God's compassion and man's hardheartedness; in the fact that God's forgiving mercy is to be the measure of our own. 'Shouldest not thou also have had compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee?'
"We are not forgiven because we forgive, but as we forgive. The ground of all forgiveness is found in the unmerited love of God, but by our attitude toward others we show whether we have made that love our own. Wherefore Christ says, 'With what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged. . . .' Matt. 7:2."--Christ's Object Lessons, p. 251.
"Forgiveness has a broader meaning than many suppose.... God's forgiveness is not merely a judicial act by which He sets us free from condemnation. It is not only forgiveness for sin, but reclaiming from sin. It is the outflow of redeeming love that transforms the heart. David had the true conception of forgiveness when he prayed, 'Create in me a clean heart, 0 God; and renew a right spirit within me.' Psalm 51:10." --Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, p. 114.
Is there someone to whom you need to offer forgiveness? How would you go about it? What difference would it make to you if that person has not asked to be forgiven?
FURTHER STUDY: Read Ellen G. White, Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing, "The Beatitudes" (Matt. 5:7), pp. 21-24; Steps to Christ, "God's Love for Man," pp. 9-15; The Desire of Ages, pp. 350, 351; Christ's Object Lessons, "Who Is My Neighbor?" pp. 382-389, and "The Measure of Forgiveness," pp. 243-251; The Desire of Ages, pp. 637-641.
The apostle James (James 2:12, NIV) calls to mind the great and awesome scene of the heavenly judgment. The law of God, which he calls "the law that gives freedom," will be the standard by which the character and life of men will be judged. God will not make exception for persons, and "judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy" (verse 13, NKJV). "A good man sheweth favour" (Ps. 112:5), and "the merciful life will triumph" (James 2:13, Moffatt). Thus the promises that Jesus made in the fifth beatitude will be fully realized.
The mercy of which Jesus speaks is an active principle expressed in acts of love toward one's neighbors. If this is not so, then mercy is of little value. In this judgment scene, acts of mercy are presented to us as being the test for admission to the kingdom. For this same reason James includes acts of mercy in his definition of "pure and undefiled" religion (James 1:27, RSV).
1. What are some ways in which we can show mercy and compassion to our fellow humans? Can you think of some examples in which someone you know demonstrated an act of mercy? What were the results?
2. What should be your motivation for showing mercy to others? If you are showing mercy merely in order to obtain mercy, are you truly merciful?
3. Is there any situation in which you are justified in withholding forgiveness? What should be your course of action when you find it difficult to forgive someone?
SUMMARY: Only those who are merciful to others can expect to be shown mercy in the day of judgment. Stated another way, only the merciful will find their way to the kingdom of God.
J. H. Zachary
When Serafima Levinson met Jesus, He set her heart on She lost her her job when she refused to work on the Sabbath, but God hired her as a literature evangelist and sent her out to witness for Him. Sometimes God calls her to an unfamiliar city to minister. She packs her bags, taking more books than clothes, and purchases a one-way ticket to her destination. "I know that God will bless me, provide for my needs, and give me my return fare," she testifies. And He has. In one city where she worked, a group of 30 new believers now meets in an old synagogue. In another city more than 120 new Adventists meet to worship and study.
Serafima is on fire for God. She does not wait until she arrives at her destination to begin work; she sells her books and literature on trains and buses too. During one train trip a man saw what she was doing and shouted. "This woman is from the devil! Do not buy her books!" He towered over Serafima's small frame, shouting, "Woman, get off the train-now!"
For one tense moment the people riding the train watched in hushed fear. Then Serafima calmly answered, "I sell books that bring peace and hope. If you do not want to listen to me, then you will have to get off the train." He did. The people on the train pressed in to buy her books.
On another occasion, she set up a little stand at the entrance to a cathedral where religious people would pass by. A young man saw what she was doing and began to shout, "Beware, here is a wolf in sheep's clothing! Have nothing to do with her!" His shouting drew the attention of the people, who came to see her books. Sales soared!
Nothing can stop Serafima. She is a faithful servant, going where her Leader sends, selling His books, and winning souls for His kingdom. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, Serafima has raised up four companies of believers in Russia. "God has given me a new life filled with hope. I must share it with everyone I meet!" Serafima smiles.
James Zachary is director of evangelism for The Quiet Hour in Redlands, California.
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