Archive for September, 2015

Matthew 5:1-12 — There is an old saying that you often here in Christian circles. It goes something like this, “If you were put on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?” That’s the feeling that I get from this last beatitude. When we live a life of action not a life of the status quo, we are naturally going to come in conflict with worldly values. It’s just going to happen. How, in those moments, are we going to react? Are we going to stand in faith? Will we compromise our beliefs just to fit in? Will people know that we are Christ followers or will we be like a chameleon and become like the environment where we are found. Will we be Christ followers when we are surrounded by other Christ followers and just one of the guys when we are outside the church circle of friends? When the heat is on, will we have what it takes to gladly identify ourselves with Christ or will we blend in to the fabric of a world that revels in its rebellion against God?

The final Beatitude is the only one that takes two verses to complete. In Matthew 5:11-12, Jesus says, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” In yesterday’s blog, we saw that Jesus pretty much guaranteed that we would be persecuted for living a life of righteousness. If we live a life in pursuit of righteousness, there will be instances where we will have not compromised with what the world wants of us at times. Now, Jesus ramps it up a notch. Jesus in sentence 1 of this Beatitude says that we are in blessed when people do all sorts of nasty things to us because we believe in Jesus. And, we by a matter of understanding, read this sentence and say yeah I can see how that would happen. I think that is why this Beatitude was split into two verses. Then, in the second verse, Jesus says we should “rejoice and be glad”. Whoa! C’mon now JC? I can understand how we will be ridiculed, vilified, and maybe even tortured physically for having believed in you. We have seen it throughout history and it occurs even today throughout the world. That part I can buy. When we accept Jesus as our Savior, it means that we live to please God and not man. That means will sometimes be ridiculed for not going with the flow. We will be persecuted for not claiming something that is not God as our god. We will often have different values than the world around us. But to be happy about it, now that is a stretch don’t ya think?

In order to understand this Beatitude, we first must remember who Jesus’ primary audience for the Sermon on the Mount is…his disciples. Remember at the beginning of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1, the Bible says, “Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him.” So, he has his disciples right directly in front of him when he goes through his Sermon on the Mount. I think what Jesus is trying to say here is that he knows that his disciples will be facing all kinds of persecution after he returns to Heaven. He is trying to get them to see that basically, if you are being persecuted, you must be doing your job. Through the centuries from that day, Jesus speaks to us in the same way.

Jesus certainly doesn’t want us to be persecuted for believing in Him but it is inevitable in a world that continues to reject the gospel message. The world does not want to admit that we are sinners in need of a Savior. The world does not want to admit that we are condemned by our sin. We like to think that we control our destiny. If we just do as much or more good than bad, then we can go to heaven. We want to believe that no matter what we believe or how we believe that we will get to heaven. We don’t want to believe that one sin taints us forever much less the many sins that we commit daily. We want to believe that we are basically good and capable of controlling our sin nature when we are really unable to do so. People don’t want to believe that we are in need of outside intervention from a perfect and holy Savior. We want to think we can do it ourselves. We don’t want to think that this one and only perfect Savior is the only way to the Father. We see the world around us even today that says the Bible is no longer valid so as to justify their behaviors and lifestyles. If you are living a life that seeks to glorify God in everything that we do, it may bring you in conflict with the world that thinks that God does not exist anymore. If you are living a life that values each and every human life as being of great value to the Creator, it may bring you in conflict with the world. If you see that God’s image in every man regardless of his race or ethnicity, it may bring you in conflict with the world. If you seek justice for the poor, it many bring you in conflict with the world. If you seek to free people from modern slavery and attempt to prosecute those who enslave others, it may bring you in conflict with the world. If you see God’s Word as constant and true and unchanging and see that the male-female bond in marriage is the only God-ordained union, we will come in conflict with the world.

As we learned yesterday, we are not to seek to be in conflict with the world. We are to seek reconciliation for the world first. We are to love those who live lives that are in opposition to God’s Word. We are not to condemn them. However, we do draw the line at the point at which we are asked to compromise God’s Word. That is the tension that we live. To love those whose lifestyles are in opposition to God’s Word so that we can share the gospel with them. We love them so we can have the opportunity to tell them about Jesus. However, in that effort, if we are asked to compromise who we are and become like the world just so we can have an “in” with the world then what have we become – a watered down gospel that is meaningless. It is almost inevitable in a world that glorifies sin and justifies by bashing the Bible and throwing it under the bus that we will come in conflict with the world if we full on believe what it says.

Thus, if people marginalize us, ridicule us, ostracize us, take things away from us, torture us, kill us for what we believe in, then, we must have been fairly public about it. Then if we have demonstrated our faith and have not hidden it, we have done what Christ did and the persecuted prophets before him. Christ was not afraid of the consequences of demonstrating his love of his fellow man regardless of station in life. He was not afraid of saying that things are not right in the eyes of God and preaching for change. He was not afraid to challenge us to be like our Father. He was not afraid to make us uncomfortable in doing so. Thus, if we have been persecuted for modeling our life after that of Christ then we should be glad. That was what he was telling the disciples. That is what he is telling us.

This gladness is not the human standard of leaping for joy because something good has happened to us, but rather the kind of joy espoused by the Apostle Paul. It was Paul who found joy in having done what his Lord compelled him to do through the actions of the Holy Spirit in his heart. If we use Jesus’ ultimate persecution as the measure of whether we are being effective in our personal ministries, then, we should count it as a compliment to the Jesus-likeness we have achieved if someone or a group or a government finds the truth that we are speaking as uncomfortable enough to try to quiet us or destroy us.

Lord, may you imbue us with the boldness, the fortitude, and the grit of our Savior Jesus Christ. May we have lived a life that has stirred up the world about you. May we have made such a difference in people’s lives for you that we pose a threat to the status quo. Please Lord, embolden us, Amen.
To summarize and conclude on our study of the Beatitudes, you see that the premise that was put forth in the beginning is that the Beatitudes are about action not just meekly accepting the status quo (as the critics of the Beatitudes and Christianity in general would have us believe). Those who say that simply don’t have a relationship with Jesus nor have they studied what Jesus has to say in the Beatitudes. Thereby, they miss their beauty and their meaningfulness to a committed Christian life. The Beatitudes require action or change in our life. The Beatitudes are about changing from a “me” attitude to an attitude of focusing on the giving away the love that we have been given to others. Here is a summary of what I learned, and maybe you too:
1. Blessed are the poor in spirit – Here we learned that we become blessed by God when we learn to rely on God and instead of our own ability to control our world.
2. Blessed are those who mourn – Here we learned that we must be broken from our pride of who we are. We learned that through our loss of control do we learn that God is in control. Once we let go and let God be in control then we become blessed. No longer do we have selfish agendas.
3. Blessed are the meek – Here we learned is about humbly trusting God, holding tighter to his hand, and letting go.
4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – Here we see that through never been satisfied with ourselves, never being satisfied with accepting the world as it is we become blessed.
5. Blessed are the merciful – Mercy is more than a feeling of sympathy. Mercy is getting off the couch of self-involvement and responding to another person’s needs.
6. Blessed are pure in heart – We learned that our heart must be purified of our own self-righteousness so that we can fully experience God and thus show his love to others.
7. Blessed are peacemakers – When we have sold out to Jesus, we become more interested in the plight of others rather than our own selfish needs.
8. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness – We learned that we become blessed when our relationship with Jesus is so important to me that I will risk everything for it.
9. Blessed are you when you persecuted because of me (Joy in Times of Trouble) – We learned here that we should find joy in achieving the impact for God that Jesus did if we are being persecuted because of acting like Jesus.

As you see, the Beatitudes are indeed about action. About a change in us. Through that change in us, we become willing to change the world on behalf of God because we no longer have selfish agendas. We truly care about our world around us on those in it. We then become agents for change by God’s standards.

In my small group discussion last Wednesday, we talked about the tension of being Christian in a culture increasingly hostile to Christianity. We talked about the tension of loving others while at the same time standing on Scripture. Are we not supposed to love everyone regardless of their lifestyle? How can we love everyone but yet have Christian principles? We are not to judge others but do we compromise the gospel if we do not stand on Scripture? Ours is a ministry of reconciliation is it not? We are to love people to Jesus Christ, are we not? These are the tough questions of our faith. We are called to be lovingly accepting of others so that we can have the opportunity to share Jesus Christ with others. How do we do both, love others as Christ has loved us but also not compromise our beliefs in that effort? I think that is why we move to the next Beatitude in Matthew 5:10. There, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. So, what should we learn from this Beatitude? I think that there are three things that jump out at us.

• First, we should notice that Jesus says “persecuted” and then adds the prepositional phrase, “because of righteousness”. That is something we will explore.
• Then, we will look at when reconciliation stops and standing on principle begins.
• Third, we will look at how far we will go in modern day America in pursuit of a Christ-like lifestyle.

The first point that I think Jesus makes in this Beatitude is that those who honestly believe in his name and live their life in emulation of Him will face persecution because of righteousness. Let’s make a distinction here, people around the world are persecuted but is it persecution because of righteousness? Again, let’s understand terminology. William Tyndale says that righteousness evolved from an earlier word, rihtwis, which would have yielded the modern English word, rightwise or rightways and also, righteousness. He used it to translate the Hebrew root, tzedek, which appears more than five hundred times in the Hebrew Bible, and the Greek word, dikaios, which appears more than two hundred times in the New Testament. Dictionaries define righteousness in theological terms as “living a life that is in accord with divine principles; a life that is pleasing to God.” Jean Vanier, in his book, “Drawn into the Mystery of Jesus through the Gospel of John” said, “There are two dangers … for the friends of Jesus. The first is the temptation to make compromises with a culture that marginalizes and crushes some people in order to avoid conflict and rejection. … The second danger is the temptation to like to disturb this status quo. When we are rebels at heart and like to shock people, we can create a fight in order to be in the limelight. We can do some of these things unconsciously, experience rejection and then think that we are being persecuted like Jesus was.”

Thus, you find two avenues here that are NOT what Jesus was talking about. Those of us who swallow what the world dishes out to avoid conflict and thus feel we are trying create or make peace. Those of us who believe that cultural acceptance of the church is more important than standing out or standing on the principles of the gospel. On the other hand, those of us who go out and look for ways to get a fight started in the name of Jesus so that they can be publicly rejected and feel that they are being persecuted in the name of Jesus are equally not in alignment with what Jesus is saying here. Persecution for persecution’s sake is not what Jesus is after here when he talks about persecution. He includes the prepositional phrase, “because of righteousness” before he says, “theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.” Jesus is saying that if your heart is right with God through your relationship with Jesus, then you will know when to quit offering up reconciliation. Jesus is also saying that to “stir things up” just for the sake of stirring it (meaning to create conflict for the sole purpose of creating conflict) and then claim matrydom when we get the backlash is not righteousness at all. There are those who believe that the leadership and their following at Westboro Baptist Church fall into this category. They seem to seek conflict rather than reconciliation. They seem to revel in their rejection not only by non-believers but by fellow mainstream Christianity as well. There is danger in thinking that you are the only one that really understands the Bible. There is danger in thinking you get it and no one else does. Thus, what Jesus expects of us is to measure everything we do by the Scriptures, by the life that He led. Just like him, there will be times in which we are persecuted for living our lives in a Scripturally-measured manner, for not going along with what everyone else believes, but it will be for righteousness that results in martyrdom not for seeking martyrdom for martyrdom’s sake. I think it is clear that Jesus would not want us to seek conflict simply for conflict’s sake, out of some sense of pride or need to be recognized, but rather only experience conflict when we are being asked to compromise the values of God as laid out in His Word.

True believers do not measure their actions by worldly standards, by what others think of them. True believers will do what is right, fight for what is right even if it means we will be ridiculed, tormented, shunned, or killed or any combination thereof. True believers have that peace that passes all human understanding that gives them fortitude in the midst of the stormy seas. They knowthat Jesus is in the boat with them. They know as the song, “Our God”, by Chris Tomlin, states “And if our God is with us, then what can stand against?” Thus, this peace beyond understanding allows those who believe in Jesus to stand in the line of fire, to say this is wrong when everyone else says it’s right or at least OK. For they know, they have measured their actions by the standards of the Scriptures, they have surrendered their will to that of our God and that whatever the consequences they will still have that one most important relationship in our lives – our relationship with Jesus Christ.

The second point that God has revealed in this Beatitude is its position in the sequence of the Beatitudes. Why did Jesus pronounce this Beatitude where he did in his Sermon on the Mount? It was John R.W. Stott in his book, “The Message of the Sermon on the Mount”, who said, “It may sound strange that Jesus should pass from peacemaking to persecution, from the work of reconciliation to the experience of hostility. Yet however hard we may try to make peace with some people, they refuse to live at peace with us. Not all attempts at reconciliation succeed.” The order here to me is important but also then the fact that they both are “in” as Beatitudes is important also. First, the order is important. God first invites us to be peacemakers then he says, ya know, you are pretty much going to get persecuted at some point because of living your life to glorify my name. To me, Jesus is saying that if you live a life filled with the Holy Spirit, you will by your nature seek peace and make peace. This is a peace in the sense that you want to share the peace of a holy life with those that do not have such peace. Being a peacemaker means that you will do what it takes to attempt to share that peace that you have found in Jesus in all your relationships. It also means that you will apply that concept in the face of hatred and meanness directed at us. There will be those that we encounter in life that will misconstrue and misinterpret what we say and hold a grudge against us for that. As John Stott says, in his aforementioned book, “not all attempts at reconciliation (peacemaking) will succeed.” There are those who will simply, and full-on, reject Jesus Christ, reject our ministry of reconciliation, and reject us for believing in this Jesus nonsense. There are going to be those that we encounter that are in full-on, ongoing rebellion against God. They want nothing to do with God’s Word and reject it without the slightest thought. They reject it as old-fashioned. They reject it because it points out sin in their lives that they are unwilling to turn away from.

This is, to me, why Jesus placed “blessed are the persecuted because of righteousness” as the next Beatitude. This means that true Christians will make every attempt to share the gospel with others not because of trying to impose their will upon others, but out of gratitude to God. We are so grateful for his grace that it gives a warm peace in our hearts that we are simply too excited about not to share. In accepting God’s grace, we accept the moral standards for our lives that God lays out in His Word. And through that obedience to God’s Word, we find peace. True believers realize that He is in control and that all things are done according to his plan and that each experience in life good and bad work together to refine us and make us better tools for His kingdom. Having said that, God’s standards by which we gladly accept as the cornerstones of our lives are not often acceptable to this “me, my, get my needs met before yours, look out for number one” world that we live in. Our attempts to be peacemakers in our world may cause situations in which we are threatened with having to compromise our Christian values or denounce them altogether by our actions in an attempt to achieve peace and reconciliation with others.

Here lies the importance of the order of the Beatitudes. Jesus is saying through the placement of these Beatitudes one after the other is that His followers will understand that point at which we are called upon to be Peter and deny Jesus. His followers will understand that point at which we are called upon to throw our Christ-given values under the bus. At this point, a true believer then measures what he is being asked against the Scriptures. In these situations, we as true believers must refuse to participate in that which will compromise what we are taught by the Scriptures. Persecution in whatever form that takes will surely follow when we don’t “go with the flow”. Again, persecution for righteousness is sacred according to Jesus. These are the people who are not martyrs simply because it makes them look good to do so. Persecution for righteousness is when we continue to love in the face of hatred. Persecution for righteousness is when we refuse to act in a non-Scriptural way because we simply believe that God’s way is better than man’s way.

The final point that comes to through the blessing of God that lights fires in my mind and gets translated on to this page is the culmination of the other two points. First, we interpreted that this Beatitude points us to the truth that those who fashion their lives after Christ we have a peace so complete that we see beyond the persecutions that we may suffer to the bigger prize which is our relationship with Jesus and our eternity in His Kingdom. Second, we see that Jesus calls us to be peacemakers first but that we must never compromise our Christ-like values in attempting to make peace in this world. Finally, the question becomes, how are you willing to go to stand firm on your beliefs in Christ. He says and virtually guarantees that if you fully accept the Christ-like way of life, persecutions will come. He says basically, “Pretty much bet on it!” This point leads me to a quote from Clarence Jordon in his book, “Sermon on the Mount” where he says, “One wonders why Christians today get off so easily. Is it because unchristian Americans are that much better than unchristian Romans, or is our light so dim that the tormentor can’t see it? What are the things we do that are worth persecuting?”

Wow, Clarence really puts us in our place with that statement. Are we so comfortable in our existence of cable TV with 500 channels, blazing fast internet speed as with sit on our couch surfing, going back and forth to work, and so on that our light is so dim that we CANNOT be persecuted for our beliefs. It’s like we, including me, say “Lord I will do this much for you but being pointed out as a Christ follower … ummm…. Don’t do that!” How come you and I claim to be Christians in a low-impact sort of way but, as Francis Chan says in the video that goes with his book, Crazy Love, there are people in Islamic countries that will lose their families and their possessions if they are so bold as to be baptized publicly and say that “my relationship with Jesus is so important to me that I will risk everything for it.” People in other countries just in this century have been singled out, tortured and put to death for firmly standing on the promises of Jesus. Can you or I do that? How far will we go in our pursuit of Christ? Will we pursue him with the same fervor as we follow and swear by our favorite sports team? Am I as willing to be pointed out as a Christ follower as I am for being a Clemson or a Carolina fan? How in love with God are we in our two car, two-story house, comfortable little worlds? Are you willing to be ridiculed for saying that you are a Christ follower? Are we willing to lose your job to follow God’s ways of doing things and refusing to participate in something ungodly at work? Are we willing to leave our comfortable life behind to pursue where God is calling you to be? Are we willing to die for being a Christian? Think about it…how far are you and I willing to take this Christ following thing? To the death?

Lord, please help us to examine our lives such that we live our lives by your Word in each and every act that we undertake in life. Lord, please help us to understand that eternity with You is more important that worldly acceptance. Lord, give me the strength and the awesome level of love for you that by sheer nature that the light I shine cannot be hidden. May I live a life that is pleasing and brings honor to you even if it brings ridicule, marginalization, or even death! May my life be such that if I was put on trial for being a Christ follower that there would overwhelming evidence to convict me. Amen and Amen.

Have you ever just resigned yourself to the fact that this is my lot in life and nothing is going to change? You are stuck in a dead end job with an oppressive boss. You are stuck in a bad marriage. You are stuck in a violent relationship. You are poor and see no way out. You are in debt up to your eyeballs and see no way to change it. You live your life from paycheck to paycheck and can’t end the cycle. Sometimes, too, we can change but we fear it and do not make the changes we need to make. Often, that’s how people perceive Christianity. They view us as not being radical but rather as those who simply accept things the way they are and as people who do nothing to change the world.

One of the raps against Christianity is that it teaches us to simply keep our head down, accept what is handed to us and just pray that things get better. We are to just be happy no matter the circumstance. We are not to take matters into our own hands and try to make things better. We are not to be violent. We are to be docile and just pray, pray, pray. So, from the outside, we are seen as supporters of things as the way they are. We are head in the clouds kind of folk. We are just waiting for heaven and ignore the ugliness of this world. Often we are perceived as arrogant because we think we are better than this world and simply stand in our ivory towers and condemn what is going on below us on the ground. We support the status quo. We are not world changers.

When Jesus says in Matthew 5:9, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” many people have misinterpreted this, according to human standards, to mean that Jesus was saying that we should just accept the way things are in this world and make the best of it. They see this statement as meaning that Christians should not focus on the here and now but rather on the afterlife that we have waiting for us in Heaven. When I opened this study of the Beatitudes, remember, we said that many have viewed that the Beatitudes are a creation to support the status quo. I also stated that actually the reverse is true. That the Beatitudes are a call to action to all those who believe in Christ and follow and fashion their lives after him. This Beatitude is no different.

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.” The first thing that strikes me here is the choice of word when Jesus is saying who is or will be blessed. Here, he uses the word, “peacemaker” rather than, say, “peacekeepers”. A peacemaker to me is completely different than a peacekeeper. A peacekeeper, in my mind, supports the status quo and only wants to keep things the way that they are, which what most detractors to the Christian faith think this Beatitude is about. However, that could not be further from the truth. Jesus, the Son of God, chose every word he spoke carefully. A peacemaker is someone who makes peace. To make something means that you have to take an active role in creating something with the resources that you have available. That means that we have to use our talents to create something completely new from the things that were before. The result being something better than the ingredients were individually. Thus, a peacemaker is a person who takes an active role in creating the state of peace.

Then what is the peace that Jesus makes reference to here? As we have seen before in this study of Matthew 5 that what we humans see is not always what Jesus sees or at least we may not see in same depth and breadth as Jesus does. Thus, we need to understand the concept of peace in Jesus’ view. The peace that Jesus speaks of here must be looked at from two perspectives. First, we must look at it from the inner person of the peacemaker and then what he does outwardly.

A peacemaker, from the Christian perspective, is a person who is fully surrendered to God, as God brings peace to our soul. As the authors, Stassen and Gushee, state in their book, Kingdom Ethics, state that “We abandon the effort to get our needs met through the destruction of enemies. God comes to us in Christ to make peace with us; and we participate in God’s grace as we go to our enemies to make peace.” Thus, a peacemaker is a person that inwardly knows of his own value to God and as such is not an insecure person who is only looking out to get his own needs meet and damn all others. We no longer have the need to lord our victories, our superiority over others. We no longer need to have conflict with others to establish a pecking order in the world. We are satisfied and at peace regardless of circumstances. However, this does not mean that we sit still and do nothing because of our contentment but we do not become seduced by wanting what we do not have, by falling prey to making things of this world our gods. Once we have received Christ into our heart, we have true peace of the soul for the first time.

Now, what does a peacemaker do outwardly, in Jesus’ eyes, that makes him become capable of being called a son of God? A peacemaker, in Jesus’ eyes, is a person, as we discussed, coming from a place of inner satisfaction where the person does not have any hidden agendas. Therefore, a Godly peacemaker is a person that goes and makes peace. He is a person that sees a problem and tries to resolve in a manner that maintains everyone’s dignity as children of our Heavenly Father. So, to me, peacemakers in this sense are more than just those who go and mediate peace between warring parties. In his book, “Sermon on the Mount: A Foundation for Understanding”, Robert A. Guelich says, “THE PEACE intended is not merely that of political and economic stability, as in the Greco-Roman world, but peace in the Old Testament inclusive sense of wholeness, all that constitutes well-being. … The “peacemakers,” therefore, are not simply those who bring peace between two conflicting parties, but those actively at work making peace, bringing about wholeness and well-being among the alienated”. Thus, a Christ-following peacemaker is one who may well broker peace between warring parties but is also a person that looks at each of the people he comes in contact with as an opportunity to bring peace. Peacemakers look to help others find peace, wholeness, and completeness. And, as you and I know, peace, wholeness, completeness can only be found when we lose our life and hand it over to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

In his book, Counter Culture, David Platt tells us that we should seek to end that which prevents each and every person from experiencing the glory of God. There are so many social ills out there that oppress and ensnare people that prevent them from experiencing the glory of God. We should be offended as Christ followers when people groups are oppressed by desperate poverty, lack of education, and corrupt governments. We should tirelessly work to free them from human oppression so that they can experience the glory of God in their lives. We should seek justice against those who enslave others in sex trafficking and any other form of modern slavery. We should work tirelessly to set these people free and teach them new ways of living that places value on their lives. We should be heartbroken over cultural and institutional racism that oppresses people groups just because of the color of their skin or their religious beliefs. When man oppresses man he is waging war against God. When we twist the Bible to support our sinful lifestyles we are waging war against God. It is our job as Christ followers to be active. We are called to carry the gospel message that we are created in God’s image and that each person is valuable in the sight of God. We are to carry the message that man has distorted the image of God when we practice behaviors that are against God’s Word ourselves and force others to accept it. We distort God’s image in each of us when we quietly accept social injustice. We are compelled to be world changers. We must work tirelessly to share the gospel in loving and compassionate ways that brings people to the understanding that God loves them, God values them, God sent His Son to redeem them, that God hates injustice, that God wants to shine His glory upon them. David Platt tells us that Christianity is anything but docile. We make peace. We create it. We work for it. Christianity works to see God’s full glory to be experienced by every man, woman, daughter and son. Being a Christ follower is a call to action. Being a Christ follower is not some quiet intellectual exercise where you become more and more like Christ through transcendental thought! We are a team of believers who care like Jesus cared. Jesus was out in the world healing daily. He was out in the world changing it so that each person He came in contact with could experience the glory of God. He was out in the world challenging those had distorted God’s Word to their own advantage so that they would one day see that God’s glory is shown through obeying His Word. Jesus met the challenges of His day head on. He did not withdraw. He was not some guru on a mountaintop withdrawn from the world. He did not sit inside the synagogues. He was a world changer. His disciples, that’s us! We should do no less. He calls us to make peace. He calls us to change to the world. Making means creating something that was not there before. Making is sometimes risky, painful, and even deadly. By no means is this Christianity a sit on the sidelines belief system. Jesus calls us to get off the couch and bring about the full extent of God’s glory here on earth!

Again, those with surface Bible knowledge, have long said the Beatitudes are about keeping the status quo or at the very least just accepting what life throws at you without complaint. As I said at the beginning of this study, when you dive into the Beatitudes, you will find that supporting the status quo is the opposite of what Jesus meant. The Beatitudes are about inward personal change and outward personal action. In this latest Beatitude, “blessed are the peacemakers”, it does not support making peace with the way things are in life and our station in it. In contrast, Jesus is saying that we must first find inner peace that comes only through our submission to Him as the Lord over our lives. Once we have given our life totally to the Lord, we become as, Paul says in Philippians 4:11-12, “For I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation!”

Paul again is not saying that we are to accept our lot and life and swallow it. What Paul is saying (which echoes what Jesus said in this Beatitude) is that since I have given my life to the hands of Jesus, it really does not matter what or how I find myself in this world. I don’t need any of the trapping of this world. When we have sold out to Jesus, we become more interested in the plight of others rather than our own selfish needs. When we get to that place of contentment through our relationship with Jesus Christ, we can shed those selfish needs, our personal agenda, and truly for the first time care about what happens to other people (without the “what’s in it for me?” factor). Only then can we become true peacemakers. Then, we take action in the interest of others, to make peace in their lives. To make peace is to create to change, to take ingredients and make something new. To make peace is to an agent that creates something new that was not there before. Not quiet. Not docile. Not accepting the status quo. Change agents. That’s what we are to be. Now.

Go and make peace!

Have you ever thought about it? The impure thoughts that flow through our mind daily! Even if we never act on them, those thoughts are there. Even the Christ follower has impure thoughts daily. We think about things we should not think about. Sometimes these thoughts dominate us for days, weeks, months, years on end. Lies, rationalizations, murder, theft, sexual sin, anger, you name it. We have these thoughts and fantasies. When we get to the Sermon on the Mount later in Matthew’s Gospel, we find Jesus saying that being His follower involves more than just not physically doing the wrong things, He says that our thought must be pure also. Physical actions are the result of thoughts first. Actions only come after thoughts. Often are hearts are full of sinful thoughts even if we do not act on them but they are there. That’s when you really do realize how impure we are. We may exhibit self-control outwardly but our thoughts are the hardest thing to bring under self-control. So, Jesus lays a heavy one on us here. Blessed are the pure in heart. It is only through grace and the power of the Holy Spirit that we can see God. Changing the outward evidence of our behavior is easy but the process of becoming pure at heart takes a grace covering from Jesus and the daily, daily, daily chiseling of our hearts into purity by the Holy Spirit. What a painful process that is! To make our hearts pure!

The next Beatitude continues the theme on contradicting normal human behaviors when Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” In contradicting normal human behavior requires action from us. Thus, this beatitude is a command to reach higher – above normal human nature. Wayne Jackson, in his essay, “Who are ‘The Pure in Heart’?”, says This Beatitude represents “that ideal state of mind of the person who longs to serve God and others for the sheer unselfish joy of honoring the Creator, and thus free of base motives. What a lofty disposition that would be.” I agree with Mr. Jackson. His statement indicates that this Beatitude represents an ideal, a lofty disposition. By saying that he means that there is a change that must occur. For me, this ideal, this lofty disposition has to be broken down into three component parts to be analyzed. Those are “purity”, the “heart”, and “seeing God.”

First, let’s look at purity. When you look at the original Greek in which this Gospel was written, the Greek word that we translate into English as “pure” is katharos. In the original Greek katharos was used in the context of metals. In this sense, it was talking about metals with all impurities removed or anything with all undesirable elements removed. When you think of the metallurigical reference, it is much like us. We are born impure. We are born with a sin nature. It is only through the burning fire of salvation and a lifetime of sanctification are all our impurities released from their hold on what is pure and God-like about us. Just as physical birth is a challenging, painful experience, our rebirth in Christ is a purification. This process of change from one state to the other is a challenging, painful experience. Thus to achieve this ideal state of this beatitude, we must have gone through a transformation in which we are rid of our normal base human behaviors that prevent us from achieving what this beatitude recommends. We must have taken the action of accepting Christ into our lives and then seeing that the life Christ wants us to lead requires us to let go of our selfish impurities and aspire to the life of selfless service that Christ led.

The next aspect of this beatitude is the “heart”. Biologically, we cannot exist without the functioning of our most important organ. Thus, this organ defines our existence. Maybe, that is why the heart has always been used as a symbol when referencing our spiritual condition. Our spiritual heart is that which is inside of us that defines us as to who we really are – who we are when no one is looking. Thus, in the context of this beatitude, Jesus is saying that we should be more than outwardly pure. Anyone can be outwardly pure. But, we, as Christ followers, must be pure of heart. We must be persons of such character that our inner most being is striving to achieve God’s ideals. Not just putting on a pretty front when on the inside we are just iron ore in its raw base state—full of impurities, impure thoughts and motives. To be pure in heart means that our inner most thoughts match our outward appearance. We walk the Christian walk as well as talk the Christian talk. Instead of having selfish motives for everything we do, our heart must be willing to serve and meet the physical and spiritual needs of our fellow man without thought of “what’s in it for me”. It is like when you sit down to write your tithe check to your church. Is it about obedience and submission to the instructions of God or are you keeping the command but yet thinking of what I could have done with that money. To sum up, it is our motives that must be purified such that our thoughts and actions are all about honoring God in all that we do.

The final aspect that I want us to look at here is about the concept of “seeing God” that is mentioned in this Beatitude. I think that the arrangement of the phrases in this Beatitude are important (i.e., God is not random in any way…even the way he arranged the sentences in the Bible are done with purpose). The end game, “seeing God” cannot happen without having gone through the transformation that leads to a pure heart. Thoughts and actions must be transformed to give us the opportunity to “see God”. To “see God” in the original Greek meant to experience the fullness of God, to see the fruits of that experience. For example, those who believe only in man’s reason (that which can be proven by man’s standards) will conclude that Jesus is a nice prophet who spoke in parables about how to act in this life, but will not “see” that Jesus is the Living Water, the very one child of God, the Savior of the World. Without faith, one cannot see. Without releasing our humanness, our flaws, our limited ability to control our world to the will of our Creator, we cannot really “see”. When we give up control of our soul to the One who made us, only then can we experience the cleansing peace of God and “see” the majesty of who he is and what he has done for us. Going back to Wayne Jackson’s essay again, he said, “When one submits to the conditions of the ‘new birth’ process, he ‘sees’ or ‘enters’ the kingdom of God, i.e., he receives the blessings of citizenship in the kingdom of heaven.” Thus, to see God, we must have the blinders of human selfishness and self-interest removed from our eyes. Only then can we truly see God in all his splendor. When those blinders are removed and we have submitted to God and allowed him to rule our lives, allow him complete control can we be transformed into the glorious child of God that can see him and sit at his feet.

Therefore, this Beatitude requires action like all the others. We must go down a path of change. We must make the painful walk through the purification process. The purification process in which our selfish motives are removed from us such that our heart, that base part of us that defines us, is reflective of God through our love and service to our fellow man. Then and only then can we be able to see the splendor, peace, the possibilities, the hope of God’s amazing kingdom. All of this splendor, hope and peace come from knowing that by no action of our own we have gained access to spending eternity at God’s feet in Heaven through the cleansing blood of Jesus. Without that cleansing blood, we are not worthy of ever gaining that access. Through that wonderful gift, we become so humbled and awed that we no longer think solely of ourselves. Through our salvation gift, we are so thankful (like someone having just saved our physical life) that we will do anything in humble service to him. No selfish motives. Just thankfulness for his saving grace. We love. We serve. We give. All to honor him. All done with a pure heart that “sees God” in everything we do in thankfulness for what he has done for us through his Son. We are pure in heart then. Our service to others, our praise to our Maker and Creator, our love for our fellow man all come as overflow from the realization that we deserve just punishment but have been shown extreme grace. When we live our lives from that position, a position of being an undeserving recipient of a pardon, then all pride gets washed away and purity can begin. We can see God.

Matthew 5:1-12 — The first thing that comes to mind when I hear the word, mercy, is fights with my brother when I was kid. Back then, to outsiders, it might have seemed that we hated each other, but I think it was just competitiveness. We tried to outdo each other at everything. We were only a year and half apart in age so we were right there together as far as physical development goes. So, we competed fiercely with one another over EVERYTHING. It didn’t matter. Everything was a competition. As you might imagine, as competitive as we were, it would lead to major conflict. A simple basketball game between the two of us could degenerate into a brawl within seconds. If we ever got the other pinned down or vice versa and during those moments the heat of anger would begin to pass and the one who was pinned and could not figure a way out of it would have to say, “mercy”. It was the humiliation of all humiliations to have to say, “mercy” cause it meant that you were defeated. You let yourself get into a pickle you could not get out of. Oh, the shame! And with the claim of mercy came victory to the winning brother. Oh the pride! That is often our perception of mercy today as well. When we think of mercy, we think of letting up and not going in for the kill. Mercy is to let someone off the hook. In little league sports and I think in some high school sports, there is a mercy rule where if the game is so out of hand at a certain time point in a game, they call the game. It’s over at that point. It is humiliation for the team that is getting beaten badly. I use to hate that when I was on the winning team because it cut our game short. I wanted to finish the domination. So, mercy, is almost an unwanted characteristic in our world. So, why does Jesus say, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy.”?

Before we dive into this beatitude, let’s have some definitions. We must understand what the word, “merciful” means. Most English dictionaries define mercy or merciful as “In English “mercy” is normally used to mean showing compassion, forbearance, pity, sympathy, forgiveness, kindness, tenderheartedness, liberality or refraining from harming or punishing offenders or enemies.” These synonyms give us some insight on this word; they all express how a merciful person might act. However, none of them specifically pictures what biblical mercy is, because the scriptural concept is virtually untranslatable into a single English word. William Barclay says it best in his Daily Bible Study commentary when he says:

It does not mean only to sympathize with a person in the popular sense of the term; it does not mean simply to feel sorry for some in trouble. Chesedh [sic], mercy, means the ability to get right inside the other person’s skin until we can see things with his eyes, think things with his mind, and feel things with his feelings.

Clearly this is much more than an emotional wave of pity; clearly this demands a quite deliberate effort of the mind and of the will. It denotes a sympathy which is not given, as it were, from outside, but which comes from a deliberate identification with the other person, until we see things as he sees them, and feel things as he feels them. This is sympathy in the literal sense of the word. Sympathy is derived from two Greek words, syn which means together with, and paschein which means to experience or to suffer. Sympathy means experiencing things together with the other person, literally going through what he is going through. (p. 103)

So, biblical mercy is different from our worldly thoughts about mercy like I think of when me and my brother used to fight or like when a team pulls all its starters in the third quarter when playing an outmatched opponent. It is more than showing compassion, pity or sympathy or tenderheartedness. It is more than letting up when you could rightfully destroy someone. It is a call to action. It is a call to get off the couch.

To have mercy for others is a call to action. Earlier this week, we were having conversations about wealth and poverty and how living simply on our part will allow us to (1) live within our means, (2) be generous, and (3) enable us to go and meet needs. It is one thing to throw money at a problem and bury your head in the sand and think that you have addressed a problem. Certainly, yes, we need generous people to give generously to the fights against poverty, injustice, slavery, and a host of other social ills as we discussed in the last few posts. However, we are called as Christ followers to do more than write a check. We are called to be in the trenches. We are called to be merciful in the sense that William Barclay defines it. It means experiencing things together with the other person. How can we be merciful if we do not feel the desperate hunger of a child in a third world country? How can we be merciful if we contribute to causes because it is one of regular bills in our inbox? Hands and feet on the ground lead to true mercy. How can you understand the plight of the urban ghetto black male if you don’t go to the ghetto and experience life with him firsthand? How can we understand here in the South how hard the spiritual soil is up in the Northeast unless we get on the ground in Manchester, CT and see how people respond to genuine love and caring? I am preaching at myself here too friends. I, just like you, can find ourselves getting so busy with our own lives that we fail to see the needs around us. That was the overwhelming thing that came out of our life group meeting on Wednesday night as we had our second session on the book by David Platt, Counter Culture. That theme was we are privileged by God to have allowed us to be born in this country. God did not put us here to be self-involved and to live off of 105% of what we make and get so wrapped up in our world of debt and things. God did put us here to be merciful. He put us here to use to be generous with the blessings that He has given us. He put us here to go and show mercy. We must go. We have been privileged. Help us Lord not to abuse the privilege and to live way beyond simply into the realms of excess and excessive debt. Help us to be a merciful people!

To have mercy for others is to understand others’ situations from the inside out. In order for us to understand, we must go. We must get off the couch. We must jump in feet first into the world outside our comfort zone. It means that we must get dirty. We need to get to know people. We need to understand their situation. We need to get inside their lives and see the world as they see the world. It is only then that we can understand. It is only then that we can be merciful. To use a light-hearted situation, think about Elena and I. We are a house divided. She is a University of South Carolina Gamecock fan (her daughter is a graduate) and I am a Clemson University Tiger fan (have been since I was a little kid and, as well, my oldest daughter is a graduate). Before I met Elena and all her Gamecockery, it was easy for me to dislike the Gamecocks and their fans. However, after living with a Gamecock these years, I have come to realize that I can no longer demonize all Gamecock fans. I know one. I live with one. It made me realize that Gamecock fans are people too. Even though their mascot is a chicken, they deserve love, and respect. This is a simplistic example and it’s about sports and so ultimately does not solve any of the world’s problems but it does show us the way. It is easy to demonize that which you do not know. It is easy to be emotionally distant from that which you do not know personally. It is easy to walk away from that which you do not have an investment in. As James tells us in the New Testament, it is easy to walk by someone sitting on a street corner begging for food and tell them that you will pray for them. That’s easy. To get down on the ground and sit with this person and try to help them make sense of their lives and help them get back on their feet, that is mercy. That is getting dirty. That is getting real. We talk a lot about the problems in what we call a godless society and mourn what is happening. Yet, we show little mercy. We do not get out in the world and show the love of Christ. We do not get out in the world and show people that we care. We do not by and large do anything other than bemoan. We as Christ followers on average only contribute 2% of our income to our churches. We as Christ followers do very little volunteer work. We as Christ followers do very little to flesh out the ministries of our churches. We as Christ followers have to begin to be more merciful. Having mercy means getting out of my comfort zone. Having mercy means getting dirty. Having mercy means taking on the qualities of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. He was out in the street. He did not wait in the synagogues for the world to come to Him. He went to the world. He healed people where they were at. He walked the towns and villages proclaiming the kingdom and demonstrating it through His actions. Merciful Jesus.

May we heed mercy’s call to action. May we heed mercy’s requirement that we go beyond the couch and take it to the streets and put people, faces, and names to the problems of this world and grow compassionate hearts to do something about because it has a face and a name!

Matthew 5:1-12 — Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice for they will be filled. Here, right here, right now, is the most challenging of the Beatitudes. There are two things that slap us in the face in this one. First, there is the present tense of it. And second, there is the state of being of it. At our church, our small groups are called to do periodic “off-the-couch” projects outside the major corporate community service projects that are to get us outside our Bible studies and put what we have learned into practice. This beatitude compels us as Christians to be forever off the couch!

The first thing that you notice here is that the verbs, hunger and thirst, are in the present tense. Not past, hungered and thirsted. Not past perfect, have hungered and have thirsted. Not future, will hunger and will thirst. Not future perfect, shall have hungered and shall have thirsted. We are to be presently hungry and thirsty for justice. So often in church and in our small groups, we are content to comment on the world as it is and say, “That’s sad!” or “man, the world is going to hell in a handbasket!” This beatitude is more than just talk. When people are hungry and thirsty presently they always seek out food to fill their hunger. Before all the fancy ways in which we live in the 21st century, much of life was spent searching for food. It was what life was all about. Hunting it. Finding it. Killing it. Preparing it. Eating it. Cleaning it up. Or we are tending to it. Growing it. Picking it. Storing it. Preparing it. Eating it. Cleaning it up. We were consumed by these activities. It was a full time job. Jesus is calling us to be consumed by seeking justice. It should be our life’s work. We should do more than every once and a while service projects that make us feel good. We should be offended by injustice. We should be offended right now, right here, and compelled into action to seek justice for our fellow man. We are not to sit on the couch. Poverty, racism, oppression, slavery and a host of other social injustices cloud out the glory of God in people’s lives and we should be offended. We should be hungry right now. We should be thirsty right now to remove all the injustices that keep people from becoming all that God intended them to be, to be able to express their God given talents in ways that bring glory to God. We should be righteously angry and compelled to action against injustice, not just occasionally, not just once in a while, not next week, but right now, hungry, right now, thirsty.

The second thing about this beatitude is that it is a state of being. We are to be constantly hungry and thirsty for justice. He did not put an end time on it. He did not say that you should be hungry and thirsty for justice until you meet this goal. We should forever be hungry and thirsty for justice. Jesus is calling us to hunger and thirst for justice in every aspect of our lives both public and private. He wants us to be a part of change in our world; to thirst and hunger for our world to be changed and become a world led by morally right, universal truths. Examples of Jesus-like thirst for justice that I can see in this world are guys like Nelson Mandela. He endured 27 years in prison for having dared to speak out against a system that is wrong. Rather than start a bloody revolution when he emerged from prison to satisfy vindictive desires, he quietly led change for the better in South Africa. He did it through forgiveness of, and working with his former captors to create a government that has now lasted far longer than anyone thought. He responded to Jesus’ call to justice. Martin Luther fought against what God’s church had become by the 15th century which was a far cry from the first century church. He fought to return it to its Christ-centered roots at the threat of prison and even death. Dr. Martin Luther King fought to end institutionalized racism, like Mandela, and influenced generations of Southerners to see each other as human beings rather than black and white. It cost him his life. Each of these men had deep faith in God and it was the desire for all men to be able to live lives that give full and complete glory to God that compelled them to change their world. We should be righteously angry and righteously hungry and righteously thirsty for justice for all mankind. We must live in an eternal state of vigilance against anything that keeps our fellow man from experiencing the full glory of God, that keeps our fellow man from experiencing a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, that keeps a man from enjoying the characteristics of God (honor, justice, freedom, love, truth, loyalty, care, etc.). This should be our state of being at all times. Hungry and Thirsty!

Let us live eternally off the couch. Let us be a service project in action daily. Let us seek out injustice that blinds and fogs and clouds the glory of God from shining in a man’s life. Let us be that church. Let us be hungry and thirsty for justice! Amen and Amen!

Matthew 5:1-12 — Is Jesus saying that the wimps will inherit the earth? Wordly definitions of the word, meek, do not bring forth images of power, confidence, and self-assurance. Meekness in a worldly definition is “humbly patient or docile, as under provocation from others; overly submissive or compliant; spiritless; tame.” In what we see in the world, it is the people with the opposite of meekness that run the world. It is the powerful, the aggressive, these are the ones who rule the earth.

We have seen it throughout history that it is the confident and aggressive that rule. People who impose their will upon others are those that advance in the world as we know it. Nations who are aggressive impose their will upon other nations. It is just the way of the world. Jesus comes along and says the opposite. What does he mean?

Meekness is humility toward God and toward others. It is having the right or the power to do something but refraining for the benefit of someone else. When we are meek we realize that we are not the center of the universe and everything does not revolve around us. When realize that we are not the center of the universe and that God is the one who is, it is humbling. When we realize that all peoples are individuals with their own rights and that they are not just here to be backdrops and window dressing for our own universe, then we find the beginning of meekness. To be meek is to recognize God as being far greater than we are and through that we reduce the size of our self-centered egos. When we realize that other people have just as much right to the air that we breath, it elevates their right to existence and reduces ours to its proper proportion. Being meek helps us put ourselves in proper perspective.

Meekness also models the humility of Jesus Christ. If anyone had the right or the power to to do whatever He wanted but refrained from doing it, Jesus would be the one. Jesus was God in the flesh. He is God. He is co-equal with the Holy Spirit and the Father. According to gotquestions.com,

“As Philippians 2:6–8 says, ‘Jesus, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!’ Being ‘in the very nature God,’ Jesus had the right to do whatever He wanted, but, for our sake, He submitted to ‘death on a cross.’ That is the ultimate in meekness.”

If we are to be like Christ, we are not to take advantage of the power that we have and lord it over others. We refrain. We hold back. We understand the needs of others. We feel the needs of others. We care about the needs of others. We place their needs ahead of our own. We find joy in caring for the needs of others. Love has won more hearts in this world that aggression ever has. Sure aggression has led to the establishment of earthly kingdom that last a while but they all fall. Jesus changed the world forever by His meekness, by His setting aside of His personal glory to do us the ultimate favor.

Meekness is the hallmark quality too of effectively sharing the gospel. The apostle Peter tells us that we should always be ready with answer for the hope that we have but that we should do so in gentleness and meekness. This was a question that my life group pondered last night as we started our session with a reprise of the discussion from the week before – how to be a Christian in a world that is increasingly hostile toward the gospel? How do we stand firm in what we believe but yet love the person whose beliefs and actions are in opposition to God’s Word. We are to be meek and gentle. We are to share the gospel in love. We love people and pray for them fervently to see the truth of the gospel. We engage them day to day. We do not beat them with the Word. We get to know them. We develop trust. We actually care about them. We are there for them. We live out love for them. It is only when people know that we love them genuinely and honestly that we can effectively share the truth of the gospel with them.

Just as God loves us even though He knows we daily disappoint Him, we should be gentle with those whose behaviors and actions are against God’s Word. Meekness, gentleness, love, and patience and prayer have won more people to Christ than any street corner evangelist and any street corner protester. Working daily and tirelessly with people who obviously are living sinful lifestyles has won more to Christ than standing in an ivory tower and saying I am right and you are wrong and you are going to hell. Help us Lord to care so deeply for others in meekness that the thought of them going to hell scares the bejeebies out of us. Help us to care so much that the thought of someone going to hell spurs us to action to get into the dirt and grime of their lives and help them to see the truth of the gospel through the love that we show them.

May we seek meekness as we become more like Christ. May we be in the streets like Him. May we love the world so much that we are willing to do anything to love others to the cross. That’s meekness, Lord! May we see saving others from an eternity in hell as so far greater than any personal need that we have that we set aside our own glory for the eternal well-being of others, just as Jesus did. Amen.