Embracing the Father’s Heart of Mercy
It is amazing how quickly a reputation can be ruined! I had been asked to be the speaker at my home church’s women’s retreat one fall. The more I prayed the more I felt like God wanted my messages for that weekend to come from Luke, chapter 6.
After sharing this with the worship leaders, they also began reading and meditating on Jesus’ ”Sermon on the Plain” in Luke, chapter 6. One of those ladies, Susan, had recently moved away from Tucson to Georgia. For years she had served on the retreats worship team and because we missed her leading worship we had invited her back.
Susan was trying to explain her joy over the invitation to a new friend in Georgia and the friend asked her what the retreat was about and she said, “Oh, we will be studying Luke 6.” And, you know how in different parts of the United States they have different ways of pronouncing words. Georgia’s regional dialect is very different from Tucson’s.
And so, her friend replied, “I can understand your excitement over seeing old friends, but why would you want to attend a conference to learn about lukewarm sex?” And this is how my reputation as a Bible teacher was ruined. For a season I became famous for being the woman who could teach about lukewarm sex. Or, as a friend put it, “If you want to have a good time, don’t call Jan.”
There is one verse in Jesus’ “Sermon on the Plain” in Luke 6:20-49 that gives clarity to the entire section. That verse is Luke 6:36, “Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”, ESV. This verse is the key to understanding every other verse in this sermon, including the passage I want you to explore today.
The call in Luke 6:20-49 is to be transformed into the image of God. To become Christ-like in your mercy because you refuse to judge others since you now know only God has all the facts. To copy Jesus’ most relevant prayer and pray for your enemies, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do”. To exercise mercy, just like your Father in heaven, who in generosity sends the rain on the just and the unjust. To let the life that has been planted in you by the Holy Spirit come forth in ever-increasing acts of mercy.
AEmbracing mercy means welcoming transformation.
As long as you have breath, the Holy Spirit will be challenging you to grow. You might be tempted to believe you are finished being transformed or feel that spiritual growth is purely a pursuit of biblical head knowledge. This is simply not true. Spiritual Growth should be about learning to practice more mercy.
At the end of the chapter in Luke 6:43-49 Jesus introduces two new metaphors that round out his teaching on mercy. Jesus uses a gardening and a construction parable to help us connect with the deeper importance of God’s mercy.
Jesus’ use of parables and metaphors will often uncover a profound spiritual truth. As you examine a metaphor remember it is not that a spiritual mystery cannot be understood, it is that a word picture can be endlessly explored and mined. This is the richness and depth of God’s word. So, look at Luke 6:43-45.
“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.” ESV
Gardeners must be patient and they must believe in the future. If they don’t they will quit laboring before they begin. Over time a plant stores energy from the sun, water and fertilizer to produce a fruit sometime in the distant future. This passage teaches that the mouth speaks out of the overflow of the heart. The mouth is drawing from the treasure you have been storing in their heart. What you store will determine what fruit you produce.
B Embracing mercy means learning to treasure what is good.
The storing of heart treasures takes a long time, but are you storing the right kind of treasure? Are you tempted to try controlling your mouth without controlling your thoughts? Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. So, as you think about mercy make it your ambition to treasure what is good.
I love it that the ESV chooses “treasure” instead of using the word “store” in this passage. Take a moment and consider these questions.
1) How might a person treasure evil in their heart?
2) How might a person treasure good in their heart?
The second metaphor is a construction picture. Look at Luke 6:46-49.
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell and the ruin of that house was great.” ESV
The wise person does the labor-intensive work of digging deep before he builds a house. Israel, like many desert regions, is famous for seasonal flash floods. The wise one wants to construct his house on the bedrock stone buried underground. He knows that the house is only as good as the foundation that it is built upon.
CEmbracing mercy is not about storm avoidance.
The proof of a well-lived life is not what you go through, but how you go through it. Both houses go through storms. Both houses listen and hear Jesus’ words, but only one of them will build their house upon the “Rock” by putting Jesus’ words of mercy into practice. There is no magic formula to insure your life will go more smoothly after you come to Christ. God is not a force you can control. But, he will never leave you nor forsake you. Understand then, that growing more merciful is not an exercise to deliver you from storms.
Why might a person hear Jesus’ words, but not put them into practice?
Jesus said, “Why do you call me Lord, Lord, and not do what I tell you?” It is almost like he is asking, “Why the pretense?” Pretending you are following after God will only result in destruction. The foolish builder in the second parable knows the word of God, but he builds his life on shifting sand because he will not submit to what Jesus asks. His life is destroyed not by ignorance, but by refusing to put into practice the Father’s heart of mercy.
Choosing to forgive someone who has hurt you are steps you will take in faith.
In your natural strength you won’t know how to process pain and loss, but God does. Listen to his voice of wisdom. Forgiveness and praying for your enemies is a practice that will begin to liberate you from your hurt.
Act on Jesus’ words of warning.
As you daily choose mercy you are consistently treasuring good in your heart. Replaying trauma or choosing thoughts of envy or revenge will lead you to store evil. Choose to not judge others and watch God free you from feelings of condemnation. Become a vessel of God’s mercy, and people will see God. These are spiritual lessons which will bless you.
“Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful”