In our last video, we studied how our salvation depends on our willingness not only to repent of our sins but also on our readiness to forgive others who repent of the wrongs they have committed against us. In this video, we are going to learn about one additional requirement for salvation. Let’s return to the parable we considered in the last video but with a focus on the part that mercy plays in our salvation. We will start at Matthew 18:23 from the English Standard Version.
“Therefore the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his servants. When he began to settle, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. And since he could not pay, his master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and payment to be made. So the servant fell on his knees, imploring him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.’ And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt. But when that same servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii, and seizing him, he began to choke him, saying, ‘Pay what you owe.’ So his fellow servant fell down and pleaded with him, ‘Have patience with me, and I will pay you.’ He refused and went and put him in prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow servants saw what had taken place, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their master all that had taken place. Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘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?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (Matthew 18:23-35 ESV)
Notice the reason the king gives for not forgiving his servant: As the GOD’S WORD Translation puts it: ”Shouldn’t you have treated the other servant as mercifully as I treated you?’
Isn’t it true that when we think of mercy, we will think of a judicial situation, a court case, with a judge passing sentence on some prisoner who was found to be guilty of some crime? We think of that prisoner pleading for mercy from the judge. And perhaps, if the judge is a kind man, he will be lenient in handing down a sentence.
But we are not supposed to judge one another, are we? So how does mercy come into play between us?
To answer that, we need to determine what the word “mercy” means within a Biblical context, not how we might be using it nowadays in everyday speech.
Hebrew is an interesting language in that it handles the expression of abstract ideas or intangibles by using concrete nouns. For example, the human head is a tangible thing, meaning it can be touched. We would call a noun that refers to a tangible thing, like the human skull, a concrete noun. Concrete because it exists in the physical, touchable form. Sometimes I wonder if some people’s skulls aren’t actually filled with concrete, but that’s a discussion for another day. In any case, our brain (concrete noun) can come up with a thought. A thought is not tangible. It cannot be touched, and yet it exists. In our language, there is often no connection between a concrete noun and an abstract noun, between something that is tangible and something else which is intangible. Not so in Hebrew. Would it surprise you to learn that a liver is linked in Hebrew to the abstract concept of being heavy, and further, to the idea of being glorious?
The liver is the largest internal organ of the body, hence the heaviest. So, to express the abstract concept of heaviness, the Hebrew language derives a word from the root word for liver. Then, to express the idea of “glory”, it derives a new word from the root for “heavy”.
In the same way, the Hebrew word racham which is used to express the abstract concept of pity and of mercy is derived from a root word referring to the inner parts, the womb, intestines, bowels.
“Look down from heaven, and behold from the habitation of thy holiness and of thy glory: where is thy zeal and thy strength, the sounding of thy bowels and of thy mercies toward me? Are they restrained?” (Isaiah 63:15 KJV)
That’s an example of Hebrew parallelism, a poetic device in which two parallel ideas, similar concepts, are rendered together — “the sounding of thy bowels and of thy mercies.” It shows the relationship between the two.
It’s not really that strange. When we see scenes of human suffering, we will refer to them as “gut-wrenching,” because we feel them in our gut. The Greek word splanchnizomai which is used to express having or feeling pity is drawn from splagkhnon which literally means “intestines or inward parts”. So the word for pity has to do with “feeling the bowels yearn.” In the parable, it was “out of pity” that the master was moved to forgive the debt. So first there is the response to the suffering of another, the emotion of compassion, but that is next to useless if not followed up by some positive action, an act of mercy. So pity is how we feel, but mercy is the action prompted by pity.
You might recall in our last video that we learned that there is no law against the fruit of the spirit, meaning that there is no limit to how much we can have of each of those nine qualities. However, mercy is not a fruit of the spirit. In the parable, the King’s mercy was limited by the mercy that his servant showed to his fellow slaves. When he failed to show mercy to alleviate the suffering of another, the King did the same.
Who do you think the King in that parable represents? It becomes obvious when you consider the debt the slave owes the king: Ten thousand talents. In ancient money, that works out to sixty million denarii. A denarius was a coin used to pay a farm laborer for a 12-hour day of work. One denarius for a day’s work. Sixty million denarii would buy you sixty million days of work, which works out to about two hundred thousand years of labor. Given that men have only been on the earth for about 7,000 years, it is a ridiculous sum of money. No king would ever lend a mere slave such an astronomical sum. Jesus is using hyperbole to drive home a fundamental truth. What you and I owe the king—that is, we owe God—more than we can ever hope to pay, even if we lived for two hundred thousand years. The only way we can ever get rid of the debt is to have it forgiven.
Our debt is our inherited Adamic sin, and we cannot earn our way free of that– we have to be forgiven. But why would God forgive us our sin? The parable indicates that we have to be merciful.
James 2:13 answers the question. He says:
“For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” That’s from the English Standard Version. The New Living Translation reads, “There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you.”
To illustrate how this works, Jesus uses a term that has to do with accounting.
“Take good care not to practice YOUR righteousness in front of men in order to be observed by them; otherwise YOU will have no reward with YOUR Father who is in the heavens. Hence when you go making gifts of mercy, do not blow a trumpet ahead of you, just as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be glorified by men. Truly I say to YOU, They are having their reward in full. But you, when making gifts of mercy, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing, that your gifts of mercy may be in secret; then your Father who is looking on in secret will repay you. (Matthew 6:1-4 New World Translation)
In the time of Jesus, a rich man might hire trumpeters to walk in front of him as he carried his gift offering to the temple. People would hear the sound and come out of their homes to see what was going on, to see him strolling by, and they would think what a wonderful and generous man he is. Jesus said that such ones were paid in full. That would mean that nothing more was owed to them. He warns us against seeking such payment for our gifts of mercy.
When we see someone in need and feel their suffering, and are then moved to act on their behalf, we are performing an act of mercy. If we do this to get glory for ourselves, then those who praise us for our humanitarianism will be paying us. However, if we do it secretly, not seeking glory from men, but out of love for our fellow human, then God who looks on in secret will take notice. It is as if there is a ledger in heaven, and God is making accounting entries into it. Eventually, on our judgment day, that debt will come due. Our heavenly Father will owe us payment. God will repay us for our acts of mercy by extending mercy to us. That is why James says that “mercy triumphs over judgment”. Yes, we are guilty of sin, and yes, we deserve to die, but God will forgive our debt of sixty million denarii (10,000 talents) and free us from death.
Understanding this will help us to understand the controversial parable of the sheep and the goats. Jehovah’s Witnesses get the application of that parable all wrong. In a recent video, Governing Body member Kenneth Cook Jr. explained that the reason people will die at Armageddon is because they did not treat the anointed members of Jehovah’s Witnesses mercifully. There are about 20,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses who claim to be anointed, so that means that eight billion people will die at Armageddon because they failed to locate one of these 20,000 and do something nice for them. Are we really to believe that some 13-year-old child bride in Asia will die eternally because she never even met a Jehovah’s Witness, let alone one claiming to be anointed? As stupid interpretations go, this ranks up there with the very silly overlapping generation doctrine.
Think about this for a moment: At John 16:13, Jesus says to his disciples that the holy spirit would “guide them into all the truth”. He also says at Matthew 12:43-45 that when the spirit is not in a man, his house is empty and soon seven wicked spirits will take it over and his situation will be worse than before. Then the apostle Paul tells us at 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 that there will be ministers who pretend to be righteous but are really guided by the spirit of Satan.
So which spirit do you think is guiding the Governing Body? Is it the holy spirit guiding them to “all the truth”, or is it another spirit, a wicked spirit, that makes them come up with really foolish and short-sighted interpretations?
The Governing Body is obsessed with the timing of the parable of the sheep and goats. This is because they depend on last days Adventist theology to maintain a sense of urgency within the flock which makes them malleable and easier to control. But if we are to understand its value to us individually, we have to stop worrying about when it will apply and start to worry about how and to whom it will apply.
In the parable of the Sheep and Goats, why do the sheep get everlasting life, and why do the goats go off into eternal destruction? It is all about mercy! One group acts mercifully, and the other group withholds mercy. In the parable, Jesus lists six acts of mercy.
- Food for the hungry,
- Water for the thirsty,
- Hospitality for the stranger,
- Clothing for the naked,
- Care for the sick,
- Support for the prisoner.
In each case, the sheep were moved by the suffering of another and did something to reduce that suffering. However, the goats did nothing to help, and showed no mercy. They were unmoved by the suffering of others. Perhaps they judged others. Why are you hungry and thirsty? Did you not provide for yourself? Why are you without clothing and housing? Did you make bad life decisions that got you into that mess? Why are you sick? Did you not care for yourself, or is God punishing you? Why are you in prison? You must be getting what you deserved.
You see, judgment is involved after all. Do you remember the time the blind men called out to Jesus to be healed? Why did the crowd tell them to shut up?
“And, look! two blind men sitting beside the road, when they heard that Jesus was passing by, cried out, saying: “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” But the crowd sternly told them to keep silent; yet they cried all the louder, saying: “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” So Jesus stopped, called them and said: “What do YOU want me to do for YOU?” They said to him: “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” Moved with pity, Jesus touched their eyes, and immediately they received sight, and they followed him.” (Matthew 20:30-34 NWT)
Why were the blind men calling out for mercy? Because they understood the meaning of mercy, and wanted their suffering to end. And why did the crowd tell them to be quiet? Because the crowd had judged them as unworthy. The crowd felt no pity for them. And the reason they felt no pity was because they had been taught that if you were blind, or lame, or deaf, you had sinned and God was punishing you. They were judging them as unworthy and withholding natural human compassion, fellow-feeling, and therefore had no motivation to act mercifully. Jesus, on the other hand, felt pity for them and that pity moved him to an act of mercy. However, he could do an act of mercy because he had the power of God to do it, so they recovered their sight.
When Jehovah’s Witnesses shun someone for leaving their organization, they are doing the same thing the Jews did to those blind men. They are judging them as unworthy of any compassion, of being guilty of sin and condemned by God. Therefore, when someone in that situation needs help, like a child abuse victim seeking justice, Jehovah’s Witnesses withhold it. They cannot act mercifully. They cannot alleviate the suffering of another, because they have been taught to judge and condemn.
The problem is that we do not know who are Jesus’ brothers. Who will Jehovah God judge as worthy of adoption as one of his children? We simply cannot know. That was the point of the parable. When the sheep are granted everlasting life, and the goats are condemned to everlasting destruction, both groups ask, “But Lord when did we ever see you thirsty, hungry, homeless, naked, sick, or imprisoned?”
Those who showed mercy did so out of love, not because they were expecting to gain something. They did not know that their actions were equivalent to showing mercy to Jesus Christ himself. And those who withheld a merciful act when it was within their power to do something good, did not know they were withholding a loving act from Jesus Christ himself.
If you are still worried about the timing of the parable of the sheep and goats, look at it from a personal point of view. When is your judgment day? Is it not now? If you were to die tomorrow, what would your account look like in God’s ledger? Will you be a sheep with a large account owing, or will your ledger read, “Paid in full”. Nothing owing.
Think about it.
Before we close, it’s very important that we understand what it means that mercy is not a fruit of the Spirit. There is no limit imposed on any of the nine fruits of the spirit, but mercy isn’t listed there. So there are limits to the exercise of mercy. Like forgiveness, mercy is something that has to be measured. There are four principal qualities of God which we all possess being made in his image. Those qualities are love, justice, wisdom, and power. It is the balance of those four qualities that produces an act of mercy.
Let me illustrate it this way. Here’s a color image like you would see in any magazine. All the colors of this image are the result of a blending of four different coloured inks. There is yellow, cyan magenta, and black. Properly blended, they can display virtually any color the human eye can detect.
Similarly, an act of mercy is the proportional blending of the four cardinal qualities of God in each of us. For example, any act of mercy requires that we exercise our power. Our power, whether it be financial, physical, or intellectual, allows us to provide the means to alleviate or eliminate the suffering of another.
But having the power to act is meaningless, if we do nothing. What motivates us to use our power? Love. Love of God and love of our fellow human.
And love always seeks the best interests of another. For example, if we know someone is an alcoholic, or a drug addict, giving them money might seem like an act of mercy until we realize they have only used our gift to perpetuate a destructive addiction. It would be wrong to support sin, so the quality of justice, of knowing right from wrong, now comes into play.
But then how can we help someone in a way that improves their situation rather than making it worse. That is where wisdom come into play. Any act of mercy is a manifestation of our power, motivated by love, ruled by justice, and guided by wisdom.
We all want to be saved. We all yearn for salvation and freedom from the suffering that is part and parcel of life in this wicked system. We will all face judgment, but we can gain victory over adverse judgment if we build up an account in heaven of merciful acts.
To conclude, we will read Paul’s words, he tells us:
“Do not be misled: God is not one to be mocked. For whatever a person is sowing, this he will also reap” and then he adds, “So, then, as long as we have the opportunity, let us work what is good toward all, but especially toward those related to us in the faith.” (Galatians 6:7, 10 NWT)
Thank you for your time and for your support.