05/28/2017 – Matthew 5:1-3 – Happy to be Blessed: “Poor in Spirit–>Kingdom of Heaven”

Click HERE for the AUDIO version.

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 5:3

Happy to Be Blessed: “Poor in Spirit –> Kingdom of Heaven”

05/28/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

As we worship You, O Lord, please take away our sorrows and strengthen our faith in the face of our struggles that we might experience the joy of Your presence, in Christ’s name. We seek Your true blessing, and we hope to be that blessing for those around us in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

How many of you knew a guy in high school, or at work, or from down the street, who thought he could just do anything better than, maybe, anyone else? At least in his stories (please note that I am purposefully using masculine pronouns because it is almost always men/boys for whom this is true), he could throw the ball farther, shoot straighter, has read more, was more musical, was better at math, better with girls, better at making money, etc, etc, etc, better than every one else!

I just started watching Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing TV sit-com. His character portrays this characteristic to a T.

The problem with this self-perception is that, ultimately it cannot be correct – and nearly every episode of Last Man Standing proves this point. At some moment in everyone’s life, we discover that we are not the best and that we cannot be independent and completely self-reliant – we need others, we need each other, we need Someone Better.

We are beginning a series of teachings on the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. I was driven to this passage by the varieties and ferocities of struggles I have witnessed, shared, and talked about over the last few weeks. These Beatitudes see these struggles as opportunities for blessing.

So, since I have been studying this passage more intently, I have become more aware of the numbers and ways people (including myself) use the “blessing” word, probably, wrongly. Sometimes this word for “Blessed”, Makarios, is translated as “Happy”. Either way, look at what Jesus called “blessed” or “happy”. The first is “poor in spirit”. Blessed? Really?

Listen with me to these opening words of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon of the Mount. Matthew 5:1-12 ….—-

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.  He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.   (NIV)

 

These blessings state a TRUTH that demands a RESPONSE. They present the beautiful structure of the character of Christ. Last week I introduced you to the idea of the “indicative-imperative” clause. The Beatitudes exemplify this kind of clause. Jesus indicates a truth and then commands a compliant response. First, they describe something of Jesus Himself; and then as His disciples, His followers, His Church (the Body of Christ), they describe something, in perhaps a more longed-for dream than an actual reality yet, of us.

 

So, let’s decipher this phrase so we might claim a better understanding of what it describes.

The Greek word Jesus uses for being “blessed”, Makarios, suggests our being SATISFIED and SECURE because of our faith in God through Jesus Christ and empowered by the HOLY SPIRIT.

The place we start, the entryway into these Beatitudes, begs the question about our satisfaction and security in Christ! How does one even find satisfaction and security?

Jesus indicates that we are POOR in SPIRIT, and then He tells us that our compliant response to that truth is simply to RECOGNIZE our spiritual poverty! The truth is that we ARE poor in spirit; the command is to BE poor in spirit!

What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”? (Btw, in Luke’s Gospel the author records this sermon slightly differently. There Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the Kingdom of God” [Luke 6:20]). What is it about “poverty” or “spiritual poverty” that makes us blessed?

Many of us think of “poverty” as having a lack of resourcesnot enough money or knowledge or skill to get by. But, even with that understanding, the crux of poverty, of being poor, is a lack of power or authority. Being short of cash to pay the doctor bill means we don’t go to the doctor; not knowing how to fix a flat or repair our laptop means we walk or resort to an encyclopedia; not having the ability to sing or play or work means going without….. But all that can be handled if we have power to change the circumstances.

Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit”, because:

  1. We cannot do it on our own! Our salvation is not dependent on our wealth, our accumulation of knowledge or degrees, our skills and abilities. No one here – or in any church sanctuary or standing behind any pulpit any where has a spirit so well in tune that we can “do it” on our own! And,
  2. We don’t have to be self-reliant, independent. Jesus says, in John’s Gospel, that God so loves the world that He gives His only begotten Son, so that any/all who believe in Him shall not perish but gain everlasting, unending, eternal life with Him in heaven (3:16)!

How does God resource those in “poverty”? Not simply by providing stuff, but by providing a means by which we might have authority. Again, in John’s Gospel, He says that all who receive Him and believe Him have the right, the authority, the power to be called children of God (1:12). Immediately after His resurrection, Jesus meets with some of His disciples and says to them, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”   And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” (20:22-24) Talk about authority! Later, in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus says, “I give you the keys of the Kingdom. Whatever you bind on earth, or loose on earth, will be bound or loosed in heaven.” (18:18)

Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven! God resources our spiritual poverty with authority as Children of God, sons and daughters of God Almighty!

In the Old Testament, the prophet Isaiah recognizes his spiritual poverty, his lack of resources/authority to do anything on behalf of God without the power of God anointing him – and in Luke 4 we watch Jesus use Isaiah’s words to describe even His own condition – “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because He has anointed me to bring good news to the poor.” (Isa. 61:1; Lk 4:18)

This is what it means to “have” the “Kingdom of Heaven”: It’s not an “ownership” deal; it’s a relationship. We are no longer merely servants of God, we are children of God.

One of our former Presbytery Execs used to chide pastors for talking about the churches they serve as “their” churches; ie, “My church is having a Spaghetti Dinner on Father’s Day Eve…” And he would properly remind us that it is not “your” church, it is God’s Church.

And, while I get that point, and agree with him, in the same way, my alma mater is not MY alma mater – I do not own my high school or college or grad school – it is still “mine” in the sense that I belong to it. We are relationally connected.

That is just as true when speaking of our families: “my parents” does not mean that I own my parents, “my spouse” does not mean that Jennifer is my property, etc – but that we belong together. By relationship, she is mine and I am hers.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”  – means, because of our spiritual poverty, our death to self, we are filled with God, filled with Jesus Christ His only Son, filled with His Holy Spirit. Our bankrupt spirit is filled with Holy Spirit potential in a way that says we belong to the Kingdom of Heaven! We have authority, as children of God.

Our ultimate SATISFACTION is found in God’s heart, and our ultimate SECURITY is bound in God’s presence!

I wonder if one of the reasons I am enjoying Tim Allen in Last Man Standing is because of how clearly I see myself in his character. Am I the guy who thinks I can do it all on my own? Lord, let me hear Jesus’ words as spoken directly to me: “Blessed are you, Wheels, poor in spirit as you are, for the Kingdom of Heaven is yours, too.”

Living and gracious God,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
You have brought us out to a spacious place
where we are called to live as those redeemed.
Empower us by Your Holy Spirit to keep Your commandments,
that we may show forth Your love
with gentle word and reverent deed
always, everywhere. Amen.

Resources:

Makarios: Blessed; the state of one who has become a partaker of God; to experience the fullness of God”; StudyLight.org.

Smith, D. Blair; “Blessed Are the poor in Spirit”; TableTalk; June 2017; Pp 14-15.

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05/21/2017 – Matthew 5:1-12 – Happy to be Blessed: “Bless Your Little Heart”

Click HERE for the AUDIO link to this message.

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 5:1-12

Happy to Be Blessed: “Bless Your Little Heart”

05/21/2017

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

 

As we worship You, O Lord, please take away our sorrows and strengthen our faith in the face of our struggles that we might experience the joy of Your presence, in Christ’s name. We seek Your true blessing, and we hope to be that blessing for those around us in Jesus’ name. Amen.

 

From the great Gales of Ireland

Are the men that God made mad,

For all their wars are merry

And all their songs are sad. – listed as an Irish blessing from G.K. Chesterton

 

When do we normally hear someone say “God bless you”? [sneeze] Yup, and that’s fine. I’ll take any excuse for someone to give me a blessing from God. Even Atheists will say “God bless you” after a sneeze. And I really do not want to insinuate any of my friends might be insincere with their wishes of blessing – but I wonder if the word has been used so much, so often, by so many people, that it has lost some of the power behind it….

 

We are beginning a series of teachings on the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. I was driven to this passage by the varieties and ferocities of struggles I have witnessed, shared, and talked about over the last few weeks. These Beatitudes see these struggles as opportunities for blessing.

So, since I have been studying this passage more intently, I have become more aware of the numbers and ways people (including myself) use the “blessing” word, probably wrongly:

Bless your heart;” “have a blessed day;” “I feel so blessed today;” “God bless this mess;” even as a substitute curse on someone, “God ‘bless’ you!” (notice the air quotes around “bless”…). Again, these may be sincere wishes of blessings, but I wonder how often they are simply sayings we toss around without thinking….

 

Listen with me to these opening words of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon of the Mount. Matthew 5:1-12 ….—-

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.  He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,    for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,    for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,     for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,    for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,    for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,    for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,    for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you….”         (NIV)

 

These are the Beatitudes of Jesus. Do they seem out of reach? Are they impossible goals set before us?

Another word often used to translate the word “blessed” is HAPPY.Happy are the poor in spirit; happy are those who mourn; happy are the meek; etc”. I believe the word is sometimes translated “happy” because it seems easier than to understand it asblessed”. But I’m not sure it really makes more sense. And, frankly, it’s the wrong translation.

Here’s a little Greek lesson: the word Jesus uses is Makarios. There are other words that mean “happy”; Jesus does not use them here. He uses Makarios. The Greek word’s meaning becomes clear showing us that it refers to the believer in Christ who is SATISFIED and SECURE in the midst of life’s hardships because of the indwelling fullness of the HOLY SPIRIT.

So the biblical background to the word for bless has to do with the fullness of our relationship with Almighty God. If we were to look at the very first Psalm, and the very first few lines in Psalm 1, we might get a better understanding of what Jesus is getting at. Listen with me to these words. Psalm 1:1-3 ….—-

Blessed is the one    who does not walk in step with the wicked    or stand in the way that sinners take     or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,    and who meditates on his law day and night.
That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,    which yields its fruit in season    and whose leaf does not wither—    whatever he does prospers.

 

These Beatitudes are completely consistent with the Old Testament emphasis on the priority of God’s action in redemption before our responsive compliance. God creates and calls Adam and Eve His children (God’s act of love), then God gives them instructions regarding the tree of knowledge of good and evil (our compliance). God calls Noah and his family into relationship and rescues them from the flood (God’s act of love), then God tells them how to be prepared (our compliance). God liberates the Israelites, whom He calls His first born Son, from bondage in Egypt (God’s act of love), then God gives them the Ten Commandments (our compliance).

In Psalm 1 God gives us His written Word and His Holy Spirit (God’s act of love), then God expects us to live by that Word, to walk in His Way, to hear and obey (our compliance).

In the Beatitudes, Jesus has already called some of His disciples, and now had hundreds of followers; He is inviting us into relationship with Him (God’s acts of love). Then He starts this three-chapter Sermon on the Mount that begins with some expectations (our responsive compliance)!

 

But, please notice, these expectations are more like descriptive observations then they are required actions. The Beatitudes do not teach us what we must do in order to earn the Kingdom of God; the Beatitudes speak of the blessings of those who have already been redeemed! They describe what we already are in Christblessed, Makarios!

 

This is why the word “happydoesn’t quite work. Happiness is a condition that is dependent on circumstancesMerriam-Webster Dictionary says that happiness is feeling pleasure and enjoyment because of your life, situation, etc. : pleased or glad about a particular situation, event, etc – in other words, we are happy when good things happen.

But blessedness is a position reliant on, not a happenstance but, a person, a relationship. Therefore, even when things are difficult, we can be blessed; even when life confounds us, when health ebbs away, when finances vanish, when loved ones either walk away or pass away, we can know we are blessed.

 

Maybe this is how “blessed” and “happy” are connected: When our relationship with God through faith in Christ is real/growing/incepted, we can know joy despite our life’s circumstances! We find we can be “happy” even whilst suffering. Maybe we can look back and discover God has been with us the whole time.

Michael J. Fox, TV and movie star from the 1980s and ’90s, afflicted with Parkinson’s Disease, is quoted as saying, “My life is so filled with positives and blessings, and so filled with things I wouldn’t trade for the world. I refer to having Parkinson’s as a gift. People are dubious about this, but it’s a gift that keeps taking, because it’s really opened me up to more compassion.” And then he said something like, “If I was told I could go back 10 years, and live it over again without the Parkinson’s, I’d say to that offer, ‘Take a hike.’” Even our worst medical diagnoses might be seen as Blessings, when we are in a right relationship with God.

 

Ultimately, what these Blessings do is ask us to live in a manner reflected by what/who we already are. The technical language calls this an indicative-imperative clause. Jesus indicates that we are poor in spirit, meek, pure in heart, etc., so He then commands us to act as if that were true. God did this throughout the Old Testament. And He continues in the New Testament. When He says, “Be holy, for I am holy,” that, too is an indicative-imperative. We are holy. So act holy.

Peter says, in I Peter 4:14, “If you are being reproached in the name of Christ, you are blessed; because the Spirit of God is resting on you.”

Jesus says, in today’s passage, “Blessed are you, whenever they should reproach you and persecute you and say evil things about you on account of me; be rejoicing and celebrating, because your reward is great in the heavens…

 

As we move into this season of warmer weather, and perhaps more fear of the unknown, let’s continue to lift our eyes from our physical and material circumstances (good or bad), and gauge our blessings by taking a spiritual measure of our soul: Are you in Christ? Does the Holy Spirit of the living God live in your heart, in your faith, in your every day life? If so, understand that God has already blessed you (that’s the indicative). Find your satisfaction and security in the Lord (that’s the imperative). Celebrate and rejoice! Amen.

 

Living and gracious God,
through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
You have brought us out to a spacious place
where we are called to live as those redeemed.
Empower us by Your Holy Spirit to keep Your commandments,
that we may show forth Your love
with gentle word and reverent deed
always, everywhere. Amen.

 

Resources:

Crowe, Brandon D.; “To be Blessed”; TableTalk; June 2017; Pp7-10.

 

Makarios: Blessed; the state of one who has become a partaker of God; to experience the fullness of God”; StudyLight.org.