06/18/2017 – Matthew 5:6 – Happy to Be Blessed: “Hunger/Thirst–>Satisfaction”

Click HERE for the AUDIO version of this message

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 5:6

Happy to Be Blessed: “Hunger/Thirst–>Satisfaction”

06/18/2017

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.

 

It was Tuesday, December 11, 1984. I was working as a substitute teacher in a Jr. High School English class – and I could barely make it from the beginning of one period to the end without needing to run to the restroom.

That evening I went to our church’s Session Meeting, but felt ill all evening long. I spent the night hovering over my apartment’s toilet, and I called in sick the next morning. By the time Wednesday was ending my fiancée’s family invited me over to their house so they could look after me while I recovered from this “flu”.

So I spent all day Thursday sick to my stomach, and drinking Orange Nehi soda … and going to the bathroom. No matter how much I drank, my thirst could not be satisfied. And some of you can guess the next paragraph.

On Friday I went to the doctor, and was admitted to Placentia-Linda Hospital with a blood sugar level of 983. A normal fasting blood sugar should be below 100. Higher than about 170 is considered diabetic.

My body was rejecting my efforts to rehydrate because my glass was full of more sugar, so I eliminated more fluids than I drank – which only increased my thirst, which caused me to drink more Nehi, which caused me to go to the bathroom, which increased my thirst, which caused me to drink more Nehi ….

I lost almost 30 pounds between Tuesday night and Friday morning – all in water weight.

I was never going to satisfy my thirst with soda. But with an IV drip, my thirst ended and my weight regained over the weekend.

 

I tell you that story, not so you’ll feel sorry for me, or be shocked about my near-death experience, but because those few days in the hospital taught me a lesson about faith. In our series of teachings on the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, today we come to the fourth Beatitude: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

I was driven to this passage by the varieties and ferocities of struggles we have all witnessed, shared, and talked about – and there were more this week (shootings, fires, auto-accidents, Navy ship-accidents, diagnoses, emergency surgeries, etc). These Beatitudes see these struggles as opportunities for blessing.

 

Listen with me to these words of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon of the Mount. Matthew 5:1-2 and 3-6 ….—-

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. (NIV)

 

The first four Beatitudes all describe the needs of a disciple. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” is the last in this intro-series.

The 1st Beatitude is about being “POOR in spirit”, acknowledging our spiritual bankruptcy.

The 2nd Beatitude is about being “MOURNING” our sinful tendency, and receiving God’s comfort of grace.

The 3rd Beatitude invites us into HUMILITY, we know our spiritual poverty and mourn it, therefore we know we cannot exalt ourselves.

These first three Beatitudes all remind us that, as human beings longing for eternal love, we need a Savior – who has come to us in the person of the Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth.

 

Remember that the Greek word Matthew uses for “blessed” is Makarios, which refers to the BELIEVER in Christ who is SATISFIED and SECURE by the indwelling of the HOLY SPIRIT. (StudyLight.org) This is much more than the simple word “happy”. Makarios implies that there is nothing else needed. My friend and colleague, Pastor Chris Merkling, told me that the Greek island of Cypress was nicknamed Makarios Island, because it was like paradise – it had everything! The implication of this kind of blessedness, Makarios blessedness, is that nothing is lacking! Total SATISFACTION is acquired.

 

So, the first three Beatitudes lead us to WANTING to be more like our Savior Jesus. One of the ways to understand the word “Christian” is that it implies something like “little Christ”. The first time the people of the Way, the followers of Jesus, the Disciples, were called “Christians” was in a Greek-speaking Gentile city of Antioch – and it was probably meant as a slanderous slur on one’s intelligence. In a world where it was illegal to be of any religion other than the state sanctioned Roman gods religion, the name “Christian” might have been meant to belittle those who belonged to this break-off sect of Judaism that claimed Jesus as Lord (instead of the Roman Emperor). And if I am willing to be called a “little Christ”, I might take that as a challenge to become even more Christ-like! “Lord I want to be a Christian in my heart….

So, the first three Beatitudes lead us to WANTING to be more like our Savior Jesus – hungering after Christ-like righteousness and thirsting after Christ-like holiness – and Jesus, in this fourth Beatitude promises that that desire will be SATISFIED!

 

Let’s take a minute to examine this phrase of hungering and thirsting, and what righteousness means, and how we will be filled, so we might claim a better understanding of what it describes, and what it demands.

 

Most of us in Spokane have rarely really been hungry or thirsty. Yeah, our stomachs growl sometimes and our tongue feels parched – but most of us seldom actually have nothing to eat or can’t turn on a faucet and find very drinkable water (Airway Heights not with-standing).

But 2,000 years ago (and still today in most third-world nations) truly dying of starvation or of thirst was a real danger.

I opened with my story about when my Juvenile Diabetes hit me because I could literally have died of blood clots or of dehydration or of coma-induced heart failure. And my cure was very literally killing me!

Jesus uses the image of hungering and thirsting as a metaphor to suggest the urgency one who recognizes his/her sinful condition would go after their salvation through the gift of Jesus Christ.

To hunger and thirst for righteousness, then, means we should urgently pursue righteousness!

 

The Bible speaks of three kinds of righteousness.

  1. LEGAL righteousness – Jesus SATISFIES this with His death on the cross. This is the kind of righteousness that Paul mainly deals with in His epistles. This is the one that describes that “all of have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” … and that the “wages of sin is death … but that the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 3:23, 6:23) The theological term for this is “justification”.
  2. PERSONAL righteousness – our growth in Christ-likeness. The theological term for this is “sanctification” – becoming more holy, sanctified, saintly. To hunger for this kind of righteousness is to yearn for God’s rule in our lives (“seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness …”, Matthew 6:33).
  3. SOCIAL righteousness – the Church bringing the Kingdom of God into our broken and fallen world! This involves us praying for our leaders, and for our family, and for those hurting, suffering, anywhere. This involves us going to the polls and casting our votes for those things we value. This involves our standing up to injustice, racism, ageism, bullying, etc. This is usfeeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, inviting in strangers, clothing the naked, looking after the sick, visiting the imprisoned” (Matthew 25:35-40). This is the kind of righteousness thirsting after that draws the world in to the Kingdom of God. This is the Church in action – hospitals, schools, orphanages declaring the glory of God!

 

Being FILLED means having our hunger and thirst completely SATISFIED! God promises to bring satisfaction to our souls.

I saw that Alice Cooper is coming to Northern Quest Casino. His only song that I can think of is – “School’s out for-ever!” (1972 rock classic) which always reminds me the 1965 Rolling Stones classic, “I can’t get no satisfaction”. That is such a sad song about striving for the wrong things!

We CAN get SATISFACTION!

 

Are you hungry for the things of God? Do you thirst for righteousness? Are you longing for holiness? Personally? In society?

Or are you OK with just a nibble of righteousness, a taste of justice and love? Is your faith fired up for more, or does it feel more like a worn out ritual, a duty, a dull routine where you just drift along?

 

We are invited to find God’s ultimate SATISFACTION in Christ. The imperative of this indicative/imperative clause is to seek after righteousness, to long for holiness in our lives, to discover the satisfying swallow of sanctification. Blessed are those who hunger for holiness, who thirst for righteousness, not settling for soda to settle our stomachs, but yearning for righteousness of God’s glory!

 

 

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:

Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange; hermeneutics.stackexchange.com.

 

Doriani, Dan; “Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness”; TableTalk; June 2017; Pp 19-20.

 

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

06/11/2017 – Matthew 5:1-5 – Happy to be Blessed: “Meekness–>Earthly Inheritance”

Click HERE to LISTEN to this message.

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 5:5

Happy to Be Blessed: “Meekness–>Earthly Inheritance”

06/11/2017

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.

 

After many years of marriage, Tom finally got tired of how his wife, Liz, had been ignoring him, so eventually he confronted her with what he perceived to be the problem.

“Come on Liz, admit it,” he ranted, “You only married me because my granddad left me $6 million, didn’t you?”

“You really are silly, Tom,” retorted Liz, “I couldn’t care less who left it to you.”

 

In our series of teachings on the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount, today we come to the third one: Blessed are the meek, for they inherit something far greater than $6 mil from Someone with far more resources than anyone’s granddad. I was driven to this passage by the varieties and ferocities of struggles we have all witnessed, shared, and talked about. These Beatitudes see these struggles as opportunities for blessing.

 

Listen with me to these words of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon of the Mount. Matthew 5:1-2 and 3-5 ….—-

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.   (NIV)

 

These blessings state a TRUTH that demands a RESPONSE. They present the beautiful structure of the character of Christ. I have 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. That’s the Truth.

Then they demand a Response to that stated Truth.

 

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

 

First, look at the result of “meekness”: “inherit the earth”? Whew! Is that like the poor guy who inherits his rich uncle’s used pencil eraser collection? Who would want this?

I saw a cartoon the other day of a big group of people lined up at the Pearly Gates and St. Peter on the phone to God saying, “It’s the Meek. They’re asking for an upgrade to Saturn…

With a little research, and Old Testament word study, we discover that the word used for “earth” in Hebrew, and here in Matthew’s Greek New Testament, is the same word that is often used for “land”. It turns out that the phrase “inherit the earth/land is used over 40 times from Genesis through the prophets. It’s used 8 times in the book of Psalms, and 5 of those times are in Psalm 37. This is a Psalm filled with God’s blessings for those who live connected to His ways.

“Inherit the earth”, we discover, is biblical code-language for “enter the PROMISED LAND.”

The “Promised Land” is a theme that goes all the way back to Abraham, in early Genesis. Abraham was called by God out of Ur of the Chaldees to go where God would lead him, and to stop where God told him to stop. This would be the Land that God Promised to Abraham and his heirs. God’s Chosen people would inherit the Promised Land.

But the idea of gaining the world, or as much of it as we can, is as old as time itself; and as universal a goal as there is. The builders of the Tower of Babel were reaching to heaven, but they were really declaring themselves the owners of all they could see (Genesis 11). We gain by accumulation or through accomplishment or by expanding our borders. And when these things become the defining pursuits of a person, or of a people, they also become our defining character and push us toward greediness and arrogance.

This is the theme of Psalm 37, where ruthless ambition to gain more and more is contrasted against those who commit their ways to the Lord and trust in Him. Four times (verses 9, 11, 22, and 34) the Psalmist says that the earth will not be earned, but rather it will be inherited, and the ones that will gain the earth by inheritance? Psalm 37 says they will be the meek!

How does one “earn” the “Promised Land”? It cannot be won, it is given, by humble meekness.

 

Now, put this in the context of JesusSermon on the Mount and this list of Beatitudes.

 

The first Beatitude is about being “POOR in spirit”, acknowledging our spiritual bankruptcy. We cannot deserve God’s favor. Our sin-bound humanity requires a Savior, one who can cancel/forgive our debt.

The second Beatitude is about “MOURNING” our sinful tendency, receiving God’s comfort of grace. The truth is that when we understand that we ARE poor in spirit; we are commanded to MOURN that poverty! And then we will MOURN the death of God’s only begotten Son, who dies on the cross to pay for our sin!

Then the third Beatitude continues this theme of gaining God’s mercy, not by our own prowess, but by HUMILITY!

In the American West, maybe in all of the Western World, being meek might be thought of as being week. But, is “mild-mannered” the same as being afraid to move on what is right? Don’t tell that to Clark Kent.

No. MEEKNESS is not the same as WEAKNESS.

In II Corinthians 10, Paul says that “Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in someone else’s territory. But, (quoting from Jeremiah 9:24) ‘Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.’ For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.”

 

Do you see how Jesus is reinforcing this same topic over and over?

The truth, He states, is that we are Poor in spirit, and when we understand that our spirit is empty of life all on its own, that’s when we are invited into the Kingdom of Heaven.

The truth, Jesus says, is that when we Mourn our spiritual reality, that’s when He comforts us with His perfect mercy.

The truth, Jesus declares, is that when we Mourn our spiritual Poverty, we will display Meekness, thus giving us the inheritance of His ultimate Promised Landnot the earthly Israel, but the Heavenly Kingdom!

 

And, just like the reward for the behavior, the Meekness that puts us in that spot of inheritance cannot be gained by simply trying harder to be humble!

Humility is the Fruit of the Spirit that as soon as you think you’ve got it, you’ve just lost it!  When I lived in Tacoma I was a part of a Pastor’s Prayer Group that met together once every month (Eric Peterson, the pastor out at Colbert was in this group). I clearly remember one time when one of the pastors told us about a former colleague of his, a Pastor Galen Doughty, whom he said was the most humble man he had ever met. And I sat in that room there and thought, “Well, you’ve met ME! What about ME?!” And as soon as I thought it, I realized that I couldn’t possibly by the humblest person he knew! (And then I met Galen, formerly of Manito Church here in Spokane, and he was right!)

We receive meekness as a GIFT from God.

 

One of the things we’ve learned about the word Jesus uses for “blessed”, Makarios, is that it always refers to one whose life is connected to God through faith (in Jesus Christ), and whose faith is filled with Holy Spirit abundance.

In this third Makarios, Jesus says that the meek INHERIT the Promised Land. The root of the word “in-her-it” is “heir”. This blessing involves being heirs of God’s grace. An heir is one who is in the bloodline, a child, a son or daughter.

 

Are you a child of God? John 1 tells us that the Word that was with God and that was, in fact, God, since the beginning of time, became flesh and lives among us. And anyone who receives Him and believes in him gains the authority to be called heirs of God, children of God.

Have you received Christ? Do you believe in His authority to grant you God’s forgiveness?

 

On this Trinity Sunday, as we acknowledge our Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we also, in a minute, will be honoring our graduates and thanking those who have played roles as their teachers. But, grads and mentors, know you did not get here on your own. Without Christ we are nothing – but with Him we are princes and princesses in His Kingdom!

 

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:

Biblical Hermeneutics Stack Exchange; hermeneutics.stackexchange.com.

 

Jones, Ken; “Blessed Are the Meek”; TableTalk; June 2017; Pp 17-18.

 

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

06/04/2017 – Matthew 5:1-4 – Happy to be Blessed: “Mourning–>Comfort”

Click HERE for the AUDIO of this message.

Mark Wheeler

Matthew 5:4

06/04/2017

Happy to Be Blessed: “Mourning–>Comfort”

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.

 

At the funeral service for a woman who just passed away, the pallbearers carry the casket out, and they accidentally bump into a wall. They hear a faint moan. They open the casket and find that the woman is actually alive.

She lives for 10 more years and then dies. They have another funeral for her. At the end of this service, the pallbearers carry out the casket.

As they are walking, the husband cries out, “Please watch out for the wall this time!”

I know that’s not actually funny, but it tickled me…. There’s probably not anybody in this room who has not gone through a mourning process, an experience of grief. And sometimes it never completely disappears.

In our series of teachings on the Beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount. Today we come to the second one: Blessed are those who mourn. I was driven to this passage by the varieties and ferocities of struggles I have witnessed, shared, and talked about over the last few months. These Beatitudes see these struggles as opportunities for blessing.

Listen with me to these words of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon of the Mount. Matthew 5:1-2 and 3-4 ….—-

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.   (NIV)

 

These blessings state a TRUTH that demands a RESPONSE. They present the beautiful structure of the character of Christ. I have 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. That’s the Truth.

Then they demand a Response to that stated Truth.

 

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

In Luke’s Gospel these Beatitudes are spoken against the backdrop of Isaiah 61, where the prophet anticipates a time when God’s Suffering Servant would bring COMFORT to God’s exiled people: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to … COMFORT those who MOURN.”

And then nearly 700 years later, Isaiah’s prophecy crystallizes into reality as Jesus unrolls a scroll in Nazareth, reads this passage, and claims to be its fulfillment.

The FIRST Beatitude is about being “POOR in SPIRIT”, acknowledging our spiritual bankruptcy. Jesus then elaborates further with today’s beatitude – because it is IMPOSSIBLE to acknowledge our spiritual debt without MOURNING it! The truth is that when we understand that we ARE poor in spirit; we are commanded to MOURN that poverty!

Yes, I started this message with a story about mourning/grieving the loss of a loved one – and I use this Beatitude in lots of funeral services – and I do believe it applies there – but the context is clearly about our attitude about our sin nature.

When we confess our sin, we are not really confessing particular/specific sin activity (I mean, we might be, but it’s bigger than that). The Bible teaches that it is our sinful nature that we must confess and repent from. So, in this Beatitude, Jesus promises to comfort those who mourn sin! And, it seems, in 21st Century America, that could scarcely be more counterintuitive or countercultural!

Sin, in the world in which we live, is not grieved; it’s not disapproved of; it’s not even frowned upon! Sin is not merely tolerated; it’s expected, and celebrated! Our society does not mourn sin; it mourns those who mourn sin!

And that’s not just “out there”. It’s right here, too. That is part of our sinful nature! That’s why Jesus said this to good, religious people, nearly 2,000 years ago!

But, friends, sin is not trivial! Sin is treason! It is insurrection against the Throne of Heaven. A Bumper-Sticker theology says, “We have never committed a ‘small sin’, because we have never offended a ‘small God’.

And imagine what this means if we actually believe Matthew 5:4 is true: if Jesus really meets repentance with comfort (not with condemnation), then we no longer need to fear being exposed! We no longer need to fear what others think of us, or how others judge our character.

When we recognize that we are poor in spirit, and mourn our spiritual bankruptcy, our “total depravity” (as John Calvin called it), our tendency toward sin, we find ourselves belonging to the Kingdom of Heaven and in the Comfort of our Heavenly Father!

So, ultimately, our comfort is anchored in the reality that Jesus does not simply mourn our sin alongst usJesus conquers sin!

This Beatitude invites you and me into this moral vision where Jesus, the Son of God, dies in our place (blessed are those who mourn that death) so that we can enter the Kingdom of Heaven that is already ours through faith in Jesus Christ!

In a few minutes we gather around the Lord’s Table. As we do so, may God make our hearts tender to mourn our spirit-bankruptcy so that we can better marvel at His comforting grace.

On this Pentecost Sunday, the day we commemorate God’s outpouring of His Holy Spirit on all who know they are poor in spirit and mourn their sinful nature, let’s invite Him in, to rule and to reign, in Jesus’ name. 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:

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

Smethurst, Matt; “Blessed Are Those Who Mourn”; TableTalk; June 2017; Pp 15-16.

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.

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.