"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
 "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
 "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
 "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The years 1919 to 1932 were interesting times in this country because of a certain federal law that was on the books and being enforced: Prohibition. This law stated that the manufacturing, distribution, and consumption of alcohol in this country were illegal. It was a clear case of Woodrow Wilson, President of the United States when the law was passed, trying to legislate morality. It was a way to try and help our country be better citizens and the thought of outlawing what was thought to be a hindrance to this morality.
The result? A colossal failure. People found ways to make and drink their booze, whether in the bathtub or buying it from the mob or whatever. It was then realized that the government or anything thing external trying to make someone moral doesn't make them moral at heart. So under Herbert Hoover in 1932, Prohibition was abolished.
Last week, we introduced to you once again the Beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. We saw that these Beatitudes (these 'blessings') dealt with matters of the heart --- the inner issues of life. We realized our poverty in spirit and that without Christ we have nothing to offer God. This is our first and important realization in coming to Christ. This results in grief over our sin that puts us in that poverty, with the only comfort that can be brought is through the forgiving grace of our Lord Jesus through His Cross.
This results in a gentle or meek spirit because we see we have nothing to offer God in and of ourselves --- a blessing that promises that the gentle in spirit (as opposed to the powerful and influential) shall inherit the earth. When we realize we are wrong and in sin before God, then the hunger that results from our poverty in spirit is a hunger and thirst after righteousness --- God's will --- for only then will our hearts be satisfied.
This is what went wrong with Prohibition --- no matter what government or any institution (even religious institutions) may say you must do on the outside to be moral, if there is no change in heart through the recognition of our sinfulness before a Holy God and a transformation of heart through receiving Him as Savior, then there is no true and lasting change.
So while last week we looked at the inner man, this week we will look at the last four Beatitudes and see how those inner attitudes manifest themselves. We will see that James was correct when he said, "Faith without works is dead" (James 2:17). These works do not save, but these 'faith-works' are the result of being saved.
* Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy (Matthew 5:7).
Years after the death of President Calvin Coolidge, this story came to light. In the early days of his presidency, Coolidge awoke one morning in his hotel room to find a cat burglar going through his pockets. Coolidge spoke up, asking the burglar not to take his watch chain because it contained an engraved charm he wanted to keep. Coolidge then engaged the thief in quiet conversation and discovered he was a college student who had no money to pay his hotel bill or buy a ticket back to campus. Coolidge counted $32 out of his wallet -- which he had also persuaded the dazed young man to give back! -- declared it to be a loan, and advised the young man to leave the way he had come so as to avoid the Secret Service! (Yes, the loan was paid back.) (Today in the Word, 10/8/92)
President Coolidge showed incredible mercy --- especially considering that he was President and that he had access to the Secret Servicemen right outside his door. But he extended mercy.
What is mercy? Mercy differs from grace in that grace is a show of love when it is not deserved; while mercy is a show of love to those in misery and helpless in their situation. This cat burglar needed mercy badly (for he surely would have been put away for life) --- and he received it. Coolidge went contrary to what the world said about mercy --- if you were merciful you were weak.
But what kind of mercy is Jesus talking about in this Beatitude? We mentioned it before, but it bears repeating: we were in the most miserable of states before Christ (and if any of you here this morning are in a miserable state right now if you are without Christ) because we were in utmost poverty of soul due to our sin and separation from God. God extended grace even when we did not deserve it ("while we were yet sinners" - Romans 5:8) by sending Christ to the cross. Yet, He extends mercy in our misery.
So we read this Beatitude in the context of the whole. We don't receive mercy from God when we are merciful --- that's a type of works-righteousness which Scripture puts aside (Ephesians 2:8-9, 2 Corinthians 5:7; Romans 3:9-20). We extend mercy to others because we ourselves have been extended mercy to the utmost --- forgiveness of sin and eternal life through Christ.
So when we are forgiven and shown boundless mercy through God's grace, we in turn are to show that mercy to others. Ephesians 4:32 reminds us, "Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you." Again, we have mercy because we have been shown mercy.
Yet, what about those who call themselves Christians who have a critical, unforgiving spirit about them? They constantly hold a grudge; always negative; never give people a break; no evidence of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in them. It seems that they have either never experienced the true mercy and forgiveness of the cross of Christ or have become so backslidden that the cross of Christ has lost its effect to sway our attitudes as Christians.
Remember the story in Matthew 18:21-35 about the servant who owed this king over 10,000 talents (equivalent to $10,000,000)? It was an unpayable debt. But the man pleaded for mercy from the king, and the king granted it. He had no more debt to pay. This same servant went out and found a fellow servant who owed him 100 denarii (a denarii was about a day's wages). He began choking the servant demanding to be paid back. When the servant couldn't, he was thrown in jail by the one who had been forgiven the 10,000 talent debt! When the king heard about it, he called the one he'd forgiven to him and said, "You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?" (Matthew 18:32-33). So he was thrown in jail until he could pay off the debt.
Matthew 6:14-15 says, "For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses." If we are unforgiving, then that may be evidence that we truly have not experienced the forgiveness of our Savior --- and we have offended Him far worse that anyone else has offended us.
* Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).
Purity in heart is difficult to achieve in our day and age. Yet, with the sinfulness of our hearts, it is difficult in any age.
The heart is the center of who we are --- and without Christ, the heart is a nasty center indeed. Jesus said in Matthew 15:19 that, "out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander" (almost a repeat of the Ten Commandments). Jeremiah 17:9 says, "The heart is deceitful and desperately wicked above all things --- who can know it?" Romans 1:21 says that the ungodly who turn away from Creator God "did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened."
So Jesus tells us that we are blessed when we have a heart that is totally against the very nature humanity is born with. Yet, if we wish to have eternal life or even the abundant life that Jesus provides (John 10:10), if we wish to see God, we must have a pure heart. Psalm 24:3-4 says,
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, Who does not lift up his soul to what is false
And does not swear deceitfully.
Hebrews 12:14 says, "Strive for holiness, for without which no one will see the Lord." Holiness is what it's about --- and holiness is something that many of us feel are for monks or Puritans or for a by-gone age. Robert Murray McCheyne wrote to Dan Edwards after the latter's ordination as a missionary, "In great measure, according to the purity and perfections of the instrument, will be the success. It is not great talents God blesses so much as great likeness to Jesus. A holy minister is an awful weapon in the hand of God" (Paul Borthwick, Leading the Way, Navpress, 1989, pp. 65.).
D.A. Carson, upon reflecting on this passage, asks us some poignant questions:
"It is the heart which must be pure, this beatitude interrogates us with the awkward questions like there: What do you think about when your mind slips into neutral? How much sympathy do you have for deception, no matter how skillful? For shady humor, no matter how funny? To what do you pay consistent allegiance? What do you want more than anything else? What and whom do you love? To what extent are your actions and words accurate reflections of what is in your heart? To what extent do your actions and words constitute a cover-up for what is in your heart? Our hearts must be pure, clean, unstained." (Sermon on the Mount, p. 25).
Turn with me if you will to 1 John 3:2-3:
Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is.  And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:2-3, ESV)
That's the ticket: is our true hope not in the things of this world or of ourselves, but in Christ? Are we seeking Him each day to clean out the impurities of our hearts and minds to make us more like Him? That desire for purity is the result of the refining power of His Spirit with us as His children. That purity prepares us to be His spotless bride (Ephesians 5:22ff) so that we may be ready to see Him.