Overcoming the Past – Lesson 2: Mercy

Key Scriptures: Genesis 22, Luke 6:36, James 2:13, Matthew 5:7, Matthew 9:13, Hebrews 4:16, 1 Peter 1:3, Lamentations 3:22-23, Psalm 23:6, Proverbs 28:13, Psalm 103:8, Luke 1:50, Matthew 18:23-36, Romans 12:8, Exodus 25:17-22

Guiding Question: What is mercy? How does God show mercy to us and how does He expect us to show mercy to others?

Optional Introductory Activity: Before class, make a list of things teens do that upset parents, siblings, teachers, friends, etc.  Introduce the activity by explaining that you will be giving them hypothetical situations. For each, you want them to explain how the people who would be upset about what happened would generally react in that situation. Tell them you want them to describe the likely responses from an average person “on the street” who may or may not be a Christian. As students share their ideas, don’t ask for them to judge the likely choices, but merely describe them.

Lesson: (Questions to students are in bold italics.) What does it mean when someone says ‘Actions have consequences’? When you make a choice about whether or not to do something, do you generally expect certain people to react a certain way to your choice? Why? If you make a monumental mistake or poor choice, how do you feel when others react negatively to that choice? How would you feel if others did not have the negative reaction you were anticipating?

One of the elements of anyone overcoming their past – especially past mistakes is mercy. Mercy is generally defined as compassion or forgiveness shown towards someone whom it is within one’s ability to punish or harm. The Bible adds even more depth to the idea of mercy. Mercy is an attribute of God. The Bible has lots of verses that explain more thoroughly what mercy is to God. Mercy is compassion, kindness, forgiveness and love that responds to human need in an unexpected or undeserved way. For the Christian to mirror God’s mercy means forgiveness, kindness, compassion, service and faith sharing.

How do we get this much deeper understanding of mercy than the secular world? Perhaps one of the best known (and perhaps a little confusing) stories of mercy is found in Genesis 22. Abraham had waited and waited and waited for God to give him the son He had promised. Finally Isaac was born. Now after several years of enjoying the blessing of his son Isaac, God asked him to take Isaac and sacrifice him to God. Why do you think God might have asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac? Did God have the “right” to ask Abraham to sacrifice anything God chose? Why or why not? In ancient times, people often sacrificed their children to idols. In fact, one of the many things that made God stand out from the false gods around Him is that God never required child sacrifice. Yet, to Abraham, it must have appeared that God had changed His mind and was requiring him to sacrifice Isaac. We don’t know for sure, but what are some things Abraham might have been thinking as they walked along? Do you think Abraham would have gone through with sacrificing Isaac if God had not stopped him? Why? How did God show mercy by sparing Isaac? 

It may be hard for us to understand, because we live in a world without child sacrifice and in a place where we aren’t ruled by a supreme ruler who cannot be questioned. Yet, people in Abraham’s time understood that as King and Creator, God has the right to ask anything of us and it is our duty to obey. God loves us, just like He loved Abraham and Isaac. While God may have wanted to emphasize the roles in their relationship, God had mercy because of Abraham’s love for God and Isaac and did not require Abraham to actually sacrifice Isaac.

God’s mercy impacts our lives and our pasts in important ways. God shows mercy to us when we don’t deserve it. There are conditions to receiving God’s mercy, however. Read Luke 6:36, James 2:13, Matthew 5:7. What condition is placed upon us receiving God’s mercy? God expects us to show mercy to those around us. If that sounds similar to verses about how God forgives our sins as we forgive others, it is because forgiveness is a big part of mercy.

Now read Proverbs 28:13. What is another condition we must meet to receive God’s mercy? We can’t just sin as much as we want, refuse to repent, refuse to forsake our sins and expect God to have mercy on us. We don’t deserve God’s mercy, but we must ask for it by repenting and trying to walk away from our sins and stop committing them. Read Psalm 103:8. Even if we try really hard, it is unlikely we will stop sinning entirely. God wants us to repent, but He also wants to reassure us. What are some things God wants us to know about Him?

God doesn’t want to give up on you. He doesn’t want you to give up on yourself. With God’s help, you can overcome past sins. When you sin, He wants you to repent and take steps to try and prevent yourself from committing that sin again. As long as you are trying to be obedient and repent when you aren’t, God wants to support you in your efforts. He loves you and will have mercy on what we would say are the worst possible sins if you repent and continue trying to obey Him.

Read Luke 1:50. What is another condition for receiving God’s mercy? Fearing God is what we might call having a healthy respect for someone. It’s similar to the respect a corporal in the military is supposed to have for a four star general. Fearing God means we don’t think we are smarter than God or that some of God’s commands don’t apply to us. It means we have made God the ruler of our lives.

Of course, all of these previous conditions assume one major condition has been met. Read 1 Peter 1:3. What does this verse assume we have done to take advantage of God’s mercy? The biggest gift of God’s mercy is that we can be baptized for the remission of our sins and to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Peter assumes we would want to take advantage of God’s gift and become Christians. Once we are Christians, when we sin we don’t have to be rebaptized. We can merely pray and ask God to forgive us when we repent.

There is one other aspect of God’s mercy we haven’t really examined yet. Read Matthew 9:35-38. If you remember, compassion is part of the definition of mercy. How does Jesus show his compassion in these verses? What does he say about the need for others to show compassion to the many people who need it in the world? If you read what Christians have written about mercy over the years, there is a theme of serving others and teaching them about how they too can receive God’s mercy by becoming a Christian. In these verses, Jesus was healing and teaching the people about God. In fact, almost every time Jesus healed someone, he also taught them something about God or what He wanted from the person – even if Jesus only said one or two sentences to the person. What are some ways we can show to others a similar compassion or mercy today?

Let’s end this part of the lesson with a parable Jesus told to help us understand mercy and what will happen if we refuse to show mercy to others. Read Matthew 18:23-36. What does this parable teach will happen to those who refuse to show mercy to others?

Skills Activity: Review the main points of the lesson. Have students list the various conditions God places on us if we expect to receive His mercy. Ask students with which of those conditions they struggle the most.

Ask students to think of a person or group of people that they would have a difficult time showing mercy to if they were struggling. Are those people struggling now? Help students brainstorm ways to show compassion to those. Perhaps, there is a group of people your community has trouble showing compassion to, even though individual students and their families may have compassion for them. Plan a service project to serve them and share your faith in some way in the process. Our website has tons of free service project ideas that can be found here www.teachonereachone.org/activity-Ideas/
Application Challenge: Think about your life and the concept of mercy. When do you struggle to show mercy to others? What are some concrete things you can do to show more mercy? Choose at least one of those ideas and use it to show mercy to someone this week.

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