I’ve been watching a TV series with Mim on Channel 7 called Castle, and I find it hard to believe that in the middle of the series, in the middle of a double episode, they decide to change seasons. Mim and I are still left hanging, wondering what happened next, and if they ever do show the second part. We’d probably have forgotten what happened in the first
I wonder if this type of thinking could be applied to our sermon series’ at church. Last Christmas you were left hanging as we cut our Matthews series short at the end of chapter 4. It’s been that long that you may not remember what we covered. So in 10 seconds I’m going to tell you what happened
The genealogy of Jesus – 3 lots of 14 generations
The virgin gives birth to a child named Jesus
Magi visit, Herod tries to kill the baby, they escape to Egypt
Herod dies, Jesus and his family return to Nazareth
John the Baptist comes preaching “repent for the kingdom of heaven is near”
Jesus is Baptised by John, the spirit lands on Jesus like a dove
Jesus is tempted in the wilderness
John in put in prison
Jesus preaches “repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near”
Jesus calls disciples, heals the sick, and walks up a mountain
And that’s where we are now
Over the Christmas break we will be continuing in Matthew, looking at the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon is sometimes called the king’s speech, nd it’s because there is so many mentions of the kingdom, and it’s given by God’s king, Jesus. The particular section of the sermon we are looking at is called the beatitudes
I don’t know if you know what the word beatitude means, but it’s a rough translation for the Latin word beatus meaning blessed. Interestingly, if you went for the greek word meaning blessed, you would call them “macarisms”. So if you were wondering what macca’s blog name means, It means blessed in greek.
- Jesus’s kingdom puts things right way up
As I look at the beatitudes, something that strikes me is how obscure they seem. The people who are blessed, seem the most unlikely characters. The poor in spirit, the meek, those who mourn, those who are persecuted.
Josh McDowel, a Christian writer, had a go at re-writing the beatitudes that might reflect what we observe of the west. And you might want to turn in your bibles to Matthew 5 so you can compare them
- Blessed are the self-confident because they rule the world.
- Blessed are positive-thinkers because they don’t need anybody’s comfort.
- Blessed are the cocky and assertive because they get what they want.
- Blessed are those who hunger for fame because they get reality TV shows.
- Blessed are the vengeful because they get respect.
- Blessed are the impure, pleasure-seekers because they see a good time.
- Blessed are those who beat their opponents because the victors write the history books.
- Blessed are the popular because everybody loves them.
If you compare this list, with the list Jesus gives, you should notice how complete different they are. There is a huge difference between the western word and Jesus’ kingdom. I’d almost be tempted to say that Jesus takes what we know, and turns it on its head. But the thing about this world is that God made it everything the right way up, but we turned things around on its head. And as Jesus teaches us about those who are blessed, he is turning things right way up
Right way up from the inside out
Before we look at the beatitudes, I want to give you an insight into God’s plans for his people. And this understanding is going to help us interpret this passage, and apply it properly. So as we consider God’s plan, I want to take you way back in the Old Testament to
Ezekiel 11:19–20 (NIV)
19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20 Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.
Did you notice that verse twenty starts with the word “then”. That’s because there is a logical progression, the new heart, and new spirit come first, then comes obedience.
God is turning things the right way up from the inside out. You become a person of the kingdom, by having a changed heart. But there is more to it than this, look at
Ephesians 1:13–14 (NIV)
13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.
The message about Jesus is powerful stuff. Through this message, if you believe it, you are marked with the Holy Spirit, and this Holy Spirit marks us out as God’s people, and incidentally it is the Holy Spirit that works in us to change us from the inside out. So as we read these beatitudes, we need to focus on our inside, on our heart and our desires, and we want to work with God to transform our hearts. So don’t harden your hearts as we look at these 8 beatitudes, but be willing for God to transform and change you.
At this point it would be good to pray. Let’s pray,
We pray that you would allow your spirit to work in us today. Help us to open our hearts to your message, to allow your holy spirit to convict us and transform us. Change our desires, our attitudes and our hearts to what you would want. In Jesus name,
- Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
As we look at the beatitudes, you may notice that the first and the last one are similar. And the similarity is they both end with “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. This is a grammatical feature often used like bookends. It means that everything in the middle is of the same set. Every beatitude is speaking about people who will enter into God’s kingdom, and we’re going to spend a little bit of time looking at each of them.
So let’s look at the first one: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Can this be right?
Christians of all people should be rich in spirit, I feel like they should be spiritual warriors, after all, they’ve got God and Jesus figured out, and have made peace with God. But here it says, blessed are the poor in spirit. It’s the idea of spiritual poverty. It’s about not having enough, and being needy and dependant. Someone who is in poverty, can’t go and buy their way out of it, They have nothing to offer. They are stuck, needing someone to help them out. If you are poor in spirit, you recognise your spiritual bankruptcy.
It’s realising that you haven’t reached God’s standard. You realise that God is way up here, and you are way down there. There is no way you measure up to what God expects of you, and our shortcomings the Bible refers to as sin. It’s missing the standard that God expects. We all know that no-one is perfect, and yet perfection is what God requires.
So how do we get from being way down here, to actually reaching God’s standard way up there? It’s common for people think as long as they are good enough, that’s all they need, and they’ll enter the kingdom of Heaven
But what God considers good enough and what we think is good enough is different. God’s good enough is perfection, our good enough is nowhere near it. This discrepancy called sin is the big show stopper. It prevents us for entering heaven, and receiving God’s blessings. In fact, sin means we deserve God’s punishment. But what Jesus did on the cross, was take our punishment for sin. And allow us to be acceptable to God.
The poor in spirit realise they need God’s mercy, So they cry out to him, are saved through Jesus, and will enter the kingdom of heaven.
It seems common for us to forget our spiritual bankruptcy. We start to focus on what we have done. We have attended church, given to the poor, gone to Bible study, served God, read our bibles, prayed, and so on. We’ve done all these good things for God. The more godly we think are, the more likely we are to be self-deceived
The only reason why God is pleased with you or me is because of what Jesus has done. We are all spiritually bankrupt. Jesus didn’t come to save the self-righteous, he came to save the sinners.
Our self-righteous attitudes can lead us to look down on others, to get angry, and sin in the way we treat our brothers and sisters. It also means we don’t cry out to God as we ought, or give God the praise and thanks that he deserves.
As we consider the rest of the beatitudes, We don’t have the spiritual resources to put any of them into practice. This is why God needs to work in us from the inside out
- Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted
This beatitude flows on from the first. When you acknowledge your spiritual bankruptcy, it leads you to mourn, and again it’s about acknowledging reality. It’s not that Christians should always be sad, but they realise that not everything is happy happy joy joy now. There are deep realities in our world that the Christian can’t ignore. The reality of living in this fallen world with sickness, poverty, and suffering. The reality of their own spiritual poverty and sin in their own life, and the reality of their friends who have rejected God.
But it’s not just Christians who mourn and groan look at
Romans 8:22–23 (NIV)
22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies.
The whole creation is groaning now. But the Christian’s groaning is different, and this is an expectant groan, looking to their adoption into God’s family. You get a better idea of what they are looking forward to in
4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
So now the Christian can be comforted, knowing their mourning is not permanent, and God cares for them, and will wipe away every tear. Isn’t that something we all desire?
- Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth
The idea of meekness is not passive idea like being weak or timid. Meekness is a desire to see the other’s interest’s advance ahead of your own. This beatitude is kind of counter productive, after all how can someone who serves the interests of others get ahead, let alone; end up with the whole earth?
But look at what happened with Abraham and Lot. These are two guys from the Old Testament, and they both had large flocks, so many in fact that the land could not sustain both of them. So they decided to part company, and Abraham let Lot choose the land he wanted, and of course, Lot choose the best land. You might have though Lot would have been better off, but God blessed Abraham, even more than Lot.
Meekness is an area that God wants to work on your heart, after all, each one of us without thinking, thinks of himself or herself as the centre of the universe. It’s easy for us to think that we are more important than the next person.
When we are hurt by someone, we want to fight for our rights, we want everyone to know about the injustice, and how inappropriately that person has treated us. This is not meekness. You are not seeking what is best for the other person, but yourself.
Meekness turns the other cheek, It repays evil with good. On the cross, Jesus died for our sake, He put us and our needs before his own. That is meekness
In church, I’m tempted to think that I’m more important than others, I think having a title makes this harder. The reality is, God has put this church together with many parts, I’m just one of many, and we are all just as important as each other in God’s eyes. And so we shouldn’t be elevating ourselves above others in our thoughts or actions
And as you think about serving God, meekness means it’s done in a way that builds up others rather than building up ourselves. It’s the manner that matters. The way we go about our ministry can affect the ministry of others. In our service of “God” we might actually find ourselves not serving “God” but “ourselves”.
This might be an area of our heart that we need God to help us with. We might need him to help us to be more thoughtful in our service. And to be more thoughtful in our interactions with others. Meekness means our service is focused on God and others, and not ourselves
I find it really difficult to put other people’s good above my own. Often it’s a struggle between me wanting control, and me trusting that God has it in control. I need to trust God that the best thing for me is to put the other person first. And it’s best for me because I know that God is working on my heart
- Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness
In this instance, what do you think the word righteousness means?
Sometimes the Bible uses righteousness to refer to the righteousness of Christ, which is about Christ’s righteousness. But righteousness has other uses. It can also mean being right with God, or conforming to God’s will, or obedience to God. I’m going to go with conforming to God’s will as it seems to fit best in the context. And again it’s another area for our hearts to be transformed in
Eli, our three year old, 30 minutes after we’ve had breakfast he often says “I’m hungry”, and he will keep on saying it until he has more food. And if he doesn’t get fed, the cravings keep on increasing and increasing. There is a need to be filled
Do you desire righteousness with increasing urgency?
That’s what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness. It’s not easy to desire to do what God wants. Naturally, we desire to please ourselves. Our whole lives are in tension. It’s a real battle of the wills, My will vs God’s will. It’s a battle over your heart. Are you going to let God have it?
As I reflect on our church, I have been amazed. Some of you have shown a real hunger and thirst to put God’s will above your own. It is evident in your life. And I am encouraged by what God is doing in you. But I also pray that God will continue to work in us. If needed, he would reawaken our desire to conform our lives to his will. And that he would continue to transform and conform us to his will, and that we wouldn’t resist God’s work in us.
- Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy
As we consider this beatitude. The big motivator for us to show mercy is because mercy has been shown to us. If we consider ourselves to be spiritually bankrupt, we are the helpless, the wretched, and the lost, and we are in need of God’s mercy.
And if we understand our need for God’s mercy, then it should be easier for us to show mercy to others. When someone does something wrong to you, you could seek punishment, or you could forgive their wrong towards you, and show mercy. If you let anger or bitterness rule your heart, there can be little room for mercy
God’s people have mercy on each other because of the mercy God has given them, and even if you are showing mercy, and other’s aren’t, you are still blessed, because God’s promise is that you will be shown mercy.
- Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God
I’ve been talking about our hearts a lot this morning, and this beatitude definitely addresses a heart issue. And if you think about purity, pure Gold only contains one substance, It contains no impurities. Our hearts need to be of one desire, one passion, one drive, and it’s all pointed in one direction, towards God. Our heart cannot be pointed in two directions as Jesus points out
Matthew 6:24 (NIV)
24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.
A heart that desires both God and money is not a pure heart, it is mixed, and it’s problematic. It means you cannot serve God
James 4:1 (NIV)
4 What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you?
The impure heart has desires that battle within you. James gives us the outworking of an impure heart, and it is repulsive, it causes fights and quarrels. The problem is our wrong and conflicting desires.
God wants our heart’s desires to be all heading in one direction – towards him. As God works in our heart, it may mean making big changes to the way you talk with others, and make big changes to your lifestyle.
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God
The peacemaker’s work is not always attractive. It means getting involved in the messiness of people’s lives. The ultimate peacemaker was Jesus. He got involved in making peace between God and us, and it cost him his life
If we are to be peace makers, we too will desire peace between man and God. The gospel of Jesus Christ is the greatest peacemaking message. The Christian who shares their faith is a peacemaker, and it’s because this message of Jesus is a message of peace
- Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
Do you agree with the beatitude?
If you had a choice between persecution because of righteousness, and not being persecuted, what would you choose?
I want to share with you a quote from John Piper out of his book The roots of endurance P18
And I wonder as I read this out to you, if he is correct
There is a mind-set in the prosperous West that we deserve pain free, trouble-free existence. When life deals us the opposite, we have a right not only to blame somebody or some system and to feel sorry for ourselves, but also to devote most of our time to coping, so that we have no time or energy left over for serving others.
This mind-set gives a trajectory to life that is almost universal-namely, away from stress and toward comfort and safety and relief. Then within that very natural trajectory some people begin to think of ministry and find ways of serving God inside the boundaries set by the aims of self-protection. Then churches grow up in this mind-set, and it never occurs to anyone in such a community of believers that choosing discomfort, stress, and danger might be the right thing-even the normal, biblical thing-to do.
I have found myself in conversation with Christians for whom it is simply a given that you do not put yourself or your family at risk. The commitment to safety and comfort is an unquestioned absolute.
What do you think?
Is John Piper correct?
Or has God’s work in our hearts helped us overcome a commitment to safety and comfort?
The beatitudes are a comfort
The Beatitudes turn our world right side up, as God works on us from the inside out. My prayer for you and me this morning is that we all let God transform us from the inside out.
These beatitudes are supposed to be a comfort for God’s people. If you’re are feeling like a failure, then there is comfort for you. The first beatitude is for you, blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God. And the second beatitude is for you as well, blessed are those who mourn, because you should be mourning over your lack of progress. And the fourth one is for you as well, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. If you are feeling like you have failed, then chances are that you long to live a life pleasing to God
But if you have read the beatitudes, and you think you’ve mastered them, and you have nothing to change about your life. Then maybe, just maybe, you are hardening your heart towards God, and I think that’s a pretty dangerous place to be.
Whatever stage we are in the Christian life, we need God’s mercy, we need to rely on God for our salvation, and we need to rely on God to change our heart to follow him. And in that sense, there are no elite Christians. So we shouldn’t feel ashamed by our failures in front of each other, but can pray for each other, encourage each other, and spur each other onto good deeds.
Lord, we thankyou that even though we are poor in spirit you have shown us mercy, and you saved us, adopted us and will one day take us to be with you in heaven. Lord, we thankyou for making your people from the inside out. Please help us not to harden our hearts, but allow you to work in our lives
Transform our hearts, our desires, our attitudes. May we desire you, and may the desires of this world fade away. May our hearts be undivided
In Jesus name