"But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
"Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven" (Luke 6:35-37).
You probably remember the story of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis. Two angels, appearing as men, approached the gates of Sodom. Most likely they were dressed like any ordinary person.
Abraham's nephew Lot sat at the city gate, possibly in some official rank. (He may have been one of the city elders who welcomed visitors). When Lot saw the two strangers, he greeted them - perhaps aware in his spirit of something supernatural in their countenance.
When the angels told Lot they were going to sleep in the streets that night, Lot was horrified. Scripture says Lot was a righteous man, living in a wicked city full of homosexual mobs - lusting, raping, violent men on the prowl. Lot's soul was vexed by all the indescribable evil he saw in Sodom. Day and night, the society had grown steadily more vile. Eventually Sodom's sins reached heaven - and now God had sent the two angels to monitor the city.
Lot immediately invited them to his house as overnight guests. He was so persistent that the angels agreed to go home with him. So Lot took them into his house and fed them.
Yet before the angels could retire for the night, a noisy, wild mob of homosexual men gathered on the street outside. They surrounded Lot's house and pounded on the door, screaming, "Bring out those two men! Give them to us that we might know them" - meaning, "Send them out so we can have intercourse with them."
What an unbelievable, ugly scene! These wild men were intent on gang-raping the two visiting strangers. Lot was so desperate, he did something inconceivable: He offered his two daughters to the mob! He told them, "Let me send out my daughters instead of these men. You can do with them as you please." As a father of two daughters, I cannot comprehend Lot's action. It absolutely strains my mind!
After Lot refused to give up the two men, the Sodomites pushed him aside and tried to break down the door. The angels, no doubt using supernatural strength, pulled Lot into the house and shut the door behind them. At this point, they had seen enough; they knew they had to act.
First, they placed a spell of blindness over the mob. Talk about the blinding power of lust: Even after being blinded, the Sodomites staggered around, still trying to find the door to Lot's house. They were under judgment and didn't even know it!
Next, the angels took Lot aside and told him, "In the morning we're going to destroy this place. The cry of wickedness has grown too loud in the Lord's ears! Now, go warn your sons-in-law that you all must leave the city. At dawn you and your family must flee. We can't do anything until you're gone!"
Early the next morning, Lot tried to awaken his sons-in-law. But the Bible says they scorned him. They probably laughed at him, rolled over and went back to sleep. So the angels told Lot, "Go now! Take your wife and daughters and get out of the city. Run and don't look back!"
But Lot lingered. For some reason he couldn't bring himself to go. In spite of all he'd seen and heard in Sodom, in spite of the angels' warnings, he hesitated. Suddenly, the angels grabbed him and his family by the hands and literally pulled them out of Sodom. The angels warned, "Judgment is about to fall. Run to the mountains - now!"
Let me ask you: Why did God send angels to rescue Lot and his family? We know that Lot and his daughters ultimately were saved out of Sodom, but his two sons-in-law and wife were destroyed. Why was Lot saved? Why did God send angels to literally pull this man out of destruction?
Was it because of Lot's morality? Was it because God saw something great in him? No! The answer is very simple: "...The Lord being merciful unto him...brought him forth, and set him without the city" (Genesis 19:16). God was being merciful to him!
I see Lot as a type of remnant believer in these last days, living in a wicked society about to be judged. Right now America is ripe for destruction; indeed, our nation is already under judgment. And Lot represents the righteous remnant church in the midst of it, for the Bible calls Lot a righteous man (see 2 Peter 2:6-8).
Yet, if God's church today is righteous, it is only because of the blood of Jesus Christ, and not because of any goodness or morality the Lord has seen in us. It is only out of his sheer mercy that he came to us and pulled us out of judgment - even when we hesitated to leave our sins!
Think about it: When you were saved, the Spirit of God took you by the hand, literally pulled you out of your sins, and set you outside the reach of wickedness and rebellion. He brought you out of judgment, out of Sodom. And perhaps you didn't go willingly; maybe he had to lead you out, as he did Lot.
We see the sins of our society mounting to heaven: Sensuality, immorality and evil are growing bolder. How is it that we are not swallowed up in it? Why have we not been carried away with the moral landslide?
You can talk about the wickedness of Sodom - but have you read your newspaper lately? Let me share just a single day's items I read recently in New York City's Daily News:
"Michael, twenty-four years old, murdered and cut up the body of his sixty-two-year-old homosexual lover. The older lover was suffocated by Michael with a plastic bag. He threw the body in the trunk of the car, drove to Lexington, Kentucky, and there he dismembered the body and dumped the parts into trashcans. Then Michael bought a metal detector and searched his victim's home for gold. His lover had intimated there was gold in the apartment."
"A Bronx woman was shot and critically wounded after being ambushed by her ex-husband. After attacking his former wife, Luis killed himself with a bullet to the head. In his car, police found an order of protection his wife had just obtained. Luis had found her with a boyfriend and in a rage pumped two bullets into her stomach. Luis ran two blocks, then shot himself in the head and died on the street."
"Schools are in an uproar over six- and seven-year-old boys kissing girls and writing dirty notes to them. One seven-year-old boy tore a button off a girl's skirt. More children are being charged with sexual harassment. It has become a national concern."
"A couple from Bogota, Colombia, with eighteen children sold a pair of six-month-old twins for $300 and a small plot of land. The couple were jailed. The twins evidently were sold to an international child-smuggling ring."
On the same day, the following items appeared in the New York Post:
"Five thousand mourners packed a high school to bid farewell to two brutally slain cheerleaders. The two teens were reported missing when they failed to show up at school. Their dismembered body parts were found scattered over several miles. The bodies had also been crushed."
"A body was pulled out of the Harlem River with missing arms. It is thought to be the remains of a drug dealer called Angel."
At this point, I had to stop reading. Then it hit me: Genesis never intimates that there was any dismemberment of bodies in Sodom and Gomorrah. There is no record of selling babies, of gang killings, of abortions. To our knowledge, they didn't have any of these things. Nor did Sodom have TV or movies to glorify violence. They didn't have a theater industry to glorify sex.
Yet, since Sodom, sin has had thousands of years to ripen and become more savage, vile, evil, wicked. Indeed, the Bible says sin will grow increasingly worse. And in this generation - which is far more violent, bloody and wicked than Sodom and Gomorrah - the only reason we are able to come to God's house is the everlasting mercy of Jesus Christ! Mercy has literally pulled us out of judgment, separating us from the wicked life we led - even when we hesitated and lingered, not wanting to forsake our sins and pleasures!
Here at Times Square Church, there are many people whom God has pulled out of alcoholism, prostitution, drug addiction, adultery. They know he didn't pull them out because of some good thing in them - but simply because he was merciful: "...The Lord being merciful unto him...brought him forth, and set him without the city" (Genesis 19:16).
Picture Lot on a safe mountainside, looking out over Sodom as it burned below. No doubt he grieved over the loss of his wife and sons-in-law. And now the entire city was crumbling into ashes before his eyes, along with its thousands of inhabitants.
Don't you wonder what Lot must have thought as he watched the smoldering embers of that city? Perhaps he asked, "Why save me, Lord? Why do many thousands lie charred, burned to ashes, while I stand here safe and delivered? Why did you save me?"
Maybe you have asked the same question: "Why me, Lord? Why am I not lying out on the streets half-dead? Why am I not one of the millions of lost souls who curse the name of Jesus, who carouse hopelessly, who are demon-possessed? Why have you saved these people all around me in church? Why are they not in some bar getting stoned, or lying in some lonely room crazed by drugs?"
I tell you, it is all because of the absolute mercy of God! The Lord, being merciful to us, brought us forth and set us outside this doomed society. We all deserved to be consumed - but he had mercy on us!
In Deuteronomy 4, Moses warned Israel that in "the latter days" they could corrupt themselves, making graven images and doing evil that would provoke God to anger. And if they did so, God would punish them, scatter them and turn them over to idolatry.
Israel did turn away from the Lord time after time, backsliding continually. Yet the Lord never gave up on these people. He showed them mercy after mercy, reaching out to them again and again with love and compassion:
"But if from thence thou shalt seek the Lord thy God, thou shalt find him, if thou seek him with all thy heart and with all thy soul. When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the Lord thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; (For the Lord thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them" (Deuteronomy 4:29-31).
What an amazing picture: God stayed with Israel even though they provoked him to anger. He fed them, clothed them and walked with them through the wilderness all those years. That is the absolute mercy of God!
How many times have you failed the Lord? How often have you had evil thoughts, things you didn't think you were even capable of thinking? How many times have you said hurtful things to others? How many things have you done that were unlike Jesus and grieved the Holy Spirit? How many times has your disobedience brought down on your head all kinds of tribulation, sorrow and suffering?
Yet just at the time you deserved to be punished - to be put to public shame, because you sinned against God's love - God instead embraced you and showed you mercy. He did not forsake you or destroy you. He had compassion on you. And he put it in your heart to return and obey him!
I hope that as you read this message, you're not smugly saying, "This is not for me." I urge you - remove from your mind any thought that you have ever deserved God's mercy! None of us deserves to be where we are today. No one has received mercy because of any personal goodness. No! Instead, we cry with the psalmist, "For his merciful kindness is great toward us..." (Psalm 117:2). "Thou, O Lord, art a God full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy and truth" (86:15).
I have a question for everyone reading this message: Do you acknowledge that God has been merciful and kind toward you? Has he been slow to anger about your sins and failures?
This poses another question: Are you in turn a merciful, kind Christian to others? "Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful" (Luke 6:36). "...the righteous sheweth mercy, and giveth" (Psalm 37:21).
Here at Times Square Church, we have called for a thirty-day prayer chain - twenty-four hours a day, with hundreds of people calling on God around the clock. We're asking the Lord to help us reach the lost, to show us how to warn the wicked and backslidden.
Yet in the midst of this prayer chain, the Holy Ghost began dealing with me - and I wondered if our prayers had the right emphasis. Maybe instead we ought to have been praying for ourselves; after all, why would God send new converts into our midst if we weren't ready to receive such needy people with kindness, mercy and grace? Shouldn't we have been praying about our lack of mercy and kindness to other Christians? Shouldn't we have known God wouldn't give us a greater love for lost souls, when we were not yet like him - full of compassion, gracious, longsuffering, plenteous in mercy?
I could envision newly saved Christians coming to church who wouldn't seem very holy or sanctified: young women in short skirts, young men in dreadlocks. I couldn't help thinking, "How many merciless saints are going to see these young people and say, 'Go get a haircut before you come in next time,' or, 'Go put on a proper dress'?"
I remember as a young evangelist preaching at a crusade before 5,000 people in Los Angeles. At least 2,000 of those people were Christian hippies. They'd just been born again and were brought out of the hippie culture. Many of these young people lay sprawled before me on the floor, barefoot and wearing long hair and tattered clothes.
I was dressed spiffily that night, in a blue blazer with a sharp tie, the latest bell-bottom slacks and shiny shoes. When I took the stage, I started railing on those kids. I said, "Some of you look awful. Put on some decent clothes and get a haircut before you come back tomorrow night!"
Backstage after the service, I was met by a delegation of those long-haired, young hippie Christians. One of them ran his fingers down my fashionable coat collar, saying, "What a beautiful suit." Then he looked up at me and said, "Brother David, we couldn't see Jesus tonight." "Why not?" I asked. He answered, "Your clothes got in the way." I had considered them to be too dressed down - and they considered me to be too dressed up!
Those kids weren't making fun of me. They were sincere. They wept as they told me, "We believe you're a man of God. But you're missing something." I know now that it was mercy I lacked. I never railed on that subject again. God taught me a hard lesson - one I pray remains in my heart.
Let me say this: Many Christians think it is enough to be pure and sanctified. We think that is the number-one issue - and that all we need to do is abstain from evil, come out from the world and remain clean. As long as we don't smoke, drink, fornicate or commit adultery, we think we are pure.
No one has preached stronger messages on holiness and purity over the years than I have. But according to James, purity is merely the first matter of concern: "The wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy" (James 3:17, emphasis mine). Yes, first we are to be clean. But mercy, grace and kindness are to follow!
You can have the purest heart in your church - you can be spotless - and yet still be mean, unkind, without graciousness! It is a terrible shame upon Christ's body that people on the streets can be more kind and gentle than many in the church. I heard one Christian woman tell her husband, "Honey, I'm not asking much of you. I just ask that you treat me as kindly as you do your friends. Please, talk to me the way you talk to them. Let me be like those you associate with outside of our home." What a shame - that any wife should ever have to ask this of her Christian husband!
Some of the most quarrelsome, argumentative, caustic, mean-spirited people are those who claim to be Spirit-filled believers. Many such people are faithful tithers; they never miss a service; they are unspotted by the world. But they are partial, showing mercy and kindness only to those who are kind to them. There is no gentleness or graciousness about them. They would rather crucify and destroy a brother or sister with gossip and slander than extend mercy. You hate to be around them - because you know they're going to chop you up!
Let me tell you what I believe is the cause of all unkindness and mercilessness in God's house: Christians who show no mercy, who are judgmental, who act and speak unkindly, have never understood or appreciated God's mercy to themselves.
Some Christians are harsh and unforgiving because they have never understood how close to being damned they were at one time. They never considered the exceeding sinfulness of their own sins; they took lightly their debt of sin, along with the merciful grace God extended to them. They didn't understand how truly filthy and ugly their sins were - and how much grace and mercy they needed!
Jesus told a parable about a servant who was forgiven a great debt. This man found grace and mercy with his master. But he took that grace and mercy for granted! Immediately after he was forgiven, he went out and began to choke a man who owed him a small, insignificant amount, demanding, "Pay me what you owe me!" When the debtor asked the man for mercy, he refused and had the debtor jailed.
Why was this man so judgmental? Why did he lack mercy? It was because he did not consider his own unworthiness! He did not understand how hopeless he was, how exceedingly sinful his own sin was. He did not appreciate the danger he had been in - how close to death he'd been - before he'd been shown mercy. Indeed, when the master found out what the ungrateful man had done to the other debtor, he had him thrown into jail for life.
While I was working on this message, the Lord stopped me and said, "David, forget your message right now. I want to talk to you about your judgmental spirit, your lack of mercy."
I thought, "Me, Lord? I'm one of the most merciful preachers in America." But he began to review all the things I'd said to young preachers - things I'd blurted out sharply. Then he reminded me of all the insensitive things I'd said to people who had failed, people I'd given up on.
That session absolutely wiped me out. I wept before the Lord. When I asked God how this could be, he answered, "You've forgotten what I did for you, the incredible mercy I had to show you. How many times did I dig you out of something that could have destroyed you? You wouldn't be here without my mercy!"
Beloved, you have to look at the pit you dug for your own life - the pit where you'd be without God's mercy - before you can offer mercy to somebody else. Only then can you say, "Oh, God, I know what you did for me. And you can do the same for my friend in sin. At one time, I was just as wicked in your sight. I can't judge this friend, because you had mercy on me!"
That is where you must begin! Are you honest enough in your heart to admit, "I really do want to be merciful, loving, kind and gracious. But I have to admit - I am not the kindest of Christians. I don't show mercy as I ought. I'm quick-tempered, sharp with my tongue. I have a tendency to judge people too quickly and give up on them too easily. I'm not as gentle as I ought to be."
Dear saint, this message is not meant to rail on you or lecture you. Rather, I believe I have a word of hope for you. Let me explain to you why you may not have reached such a place yet - why you find it so hard to be the kind, gracious, merciful Christian you want to be.
We find the key in Psalm 119. The psalmist makes a powerful statement here: "Let, I pray thee, thy merciful kindness be for my comfort, according to thy word unto thy servant" (Psalm 119:76). The meaning here is, "Oh Lord, your word tells me I am to be comforted by the knowledge that you are merciful and full of compassion to me. Let me draw comfort from that great truth!"
If you were to look up the words "merciful" and "mercy" in a concordance, you'd find hundreds of references. God's word overwhelms us with numerous promises of his marvelous grace, lovingkindness and compassion. He wants to impress upon us that he is merciful, longsuffering, slow to anger about our failures, weaknesses and temptations.
All God's promises of mercy are given to comfort us in our trials. When we fail God, we think he is mad at us, ready to judge us. But instead, he wants us to know, "I will see you through. Simply repent. I am not mad at you. I am merciful, full of grace and love for you. Draw comfort from this!" How comforting to know his mercy will never be withdrawn from us. How comforting to know that when we sin or fail, his mercy and love toward us grow even stronger.
Yet, unless we draw comfort from the mercy God shows to us, we are in no position to give mercy that offers comfort to others. Only when we experience the absolute mercifulness of God will there be an overflow of mercy to everyone around us. We become merciful people because we are living in the mercy of God ourselves!
Every time you show mercy - every time you are kind and gracious to another believer - you are giving comfort.
A man from our church stopped me after a recent service. He said, "Brother Wilkerson, let me tell you why I attend this church. My mother just recently passed away. She was ninety. For the past four years she was bedfast, and I took care of her.
"At the church I used to attend, I had to leave every Sunday service early to go and tend to her. After a while, the pastor got tired of it. Before the whole congregation he told me, 'If you're going to go, go now, before I start to preach.'
"Here at Times Square Church, no one has ever said a word to me about leaving early. That may seem like a small thing, but to me it's a big thing. I didn't have to explain to everyone here that I was going home to take care of my mother."
That's where mercy must be shown - in the ordinary, day-to-day things. Sometimes mercy can be just a smile, or an arm around someone's shoulder. It can be as simple as a sympathetic countenance or word to someone who's hurting.
But you can never offer mercy if you're constantly thinking, "God must be mad at me. I'm going to take a fall - I just know it. I'm that kind of person!" You can't rejoice in God's grace and love if you always think you're just one step out of hell.
How can you offer comfort to others, when you have not yet learned yourself how to draw comfort in God's mercy to you? "...that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God...whether we be comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation" (2 Corinthians 1:4, 6).
This is the primary reason why so many Christians are not merciful: It is because they have never been comforted in the mercifulness of God toward them. They do not know how to rest in his mercy. They have heard God is merciful, and they hope he will be merciful to them - but they are not sure of it. They have no comforting peace!
But merciful Christians are the Lord's comforters. And they can show and speak mercy and lovingkindness, because they have experienced the incredible comfort of God's mercy to them.
When I'm face to face with someone who has failed, whose past is wicked and vile, and my flesh may want to rebuke or reject him, I remember how merciful God has been to me - how he comforted me with his love and compassion when I needed it. And suddenly I remind myself: Jesus came to seek that which was lost. His mercy extends to all. Nothing, and no one, is impossible with God.
Then my heart softens. I can look at that sinner and say to myself, "Lord, I was no better. In your eyes, I was just as wicked. You forgave me. Help me forgive him!" I can now act as a comforter, offering love and tender compassion - because by the comfort by which I have been comforted, I am able to comfort those who also need comforting.
Christian, you need no lecture, no thrashing. You only need to search God's word, and to believe all he has said about his mercy to you. So, settle your troubled soul by appropriating it. Be comforted in God's mercifulness to you - and you will overflow with that mercy to others!