The Fourth Sunday After Pentecost June 24, 2007
Seeing the multitudes, [Jesus] went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
Dear fellow-redeemed in Christ Jesus our Lord:
We have before us today the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the most famous of all sermons. He sets the tone with what are called the Beatitudes. Each phrase in this section begins with the word blessed which could also be translated as “happy.” Jesus lays out for us facts that will fly completely contrary to conventional wisdom.
Conventional wisdom tells us that in order to be happy and to be blessed we have to do what feels right to us. We have to follow our instincts. Conventional wisdom tells us to go with the popular decisions. When it comes to happiness, conventional wisdom has been tried and has failed. When people strive for a shallow happiness that is exactly what they get. The Lord tells us today that we are blessed when we are Christians and that we will continue to blessed as we focus on things spiritual and on Christ. May He open our hearts to receive His message today. I. He directs us to be transformed in Christ rather than be conformed to the world and II. He directs us away from natural tendencies toward things spiritual
Popularity is an incredibly powerful stimulant. We want to be included. We don’t want to stick out as being different. Yet that is not the pattern that our Savior set. He stood out wherever He went not just because of His miracles, but because He firmly followed God’s Word and always acted in righteousness and truth. It follows then that the more you are like Jesus the less you’ll be like the rest of the world.
Would we rather be normal—like the rest of the world? Normal means equating your happiness and satisfaction according to a bank balance or “trophies” you may accumulate. Normal is selfish and greedy. Being normal according to the world’s definition ends up in eternal destruction. Is that what you want? The more you study God’s Word and imitate Christ the more you will distance yourself from this world of sin. It’s sad but true that all too often it’s hard to tell believers from unbelievers when it comes to actions. It is not because unbelievers have become more righteous. The opposite is true. We seek to blend in with our environment. People really ought to tell if you’re a Christian even if you don’t say a word because you will act differently.
There are two separate and distinct kingdoms. One is of this world. The other is God’s kingdom. There are two separate and distinct rulers. Satan is the prince of this world. Jesus is the ruler of God’s Kingdom. We can’t have a foot in each kingdom. A person either belongs to one or the other. It is key for us to remember that we’re just visiting this earth. Our true home is in heaven. When a Christian dies we say that he was “called home.” Those are not small words. He is home. As Christians we all await the time when we are able to end our pilgrimage and go to our true and permanent home.
In the meantime on this earth, Jesus reminds us that He has transformed us. By the Holy Spirit working in our hearts we are a new creation in Christ. Each Christian has the attributes Jesus mentioned. But really and truly you would not be a Christian if you were not poor in spirit or have not mourned over your sin. Without that knowledge you would see no need for a Savior. If you were not hungering and thirsting after righteousness, at least to some degree, you would be in the kingdom of this world. Christ has changed you. He has made you different.
At the same time He directs us to continue in the direction that the Beatitudes are pointing us. It would be a downright shame if we would believe that the attitude described here was only for certain Christians, or that one could pick and choose which would apply to him. The Lord does not draw any lines between super Christians and regular Christians. He doesn’t subdivide between lay-members and clergy. All of the Beatitudes belong to all Christians. These are God’s expectations and God’s realities. He tells you what you are.
Don’t look at these attitudes and despair. We will see how God’s plan for blessedness and happiness works, even though—or we might say especially because—it defies the wisdom of the world.
Once again we have to defy conventional wisdom by going against our gut when it comes to true happiness here in time and even beyond this life. A natural tendency is to deny sin or at the very least to underestimate it. If left to our natural devices we will devalue sin. We’ll try to find loopholes in the Bible when it comes to our behavior. Somebody might say, “That was written thousands of years ago. That Law doesn’t apply to us.” Another might just omit that part of the Bible and say that God didn’t write it. Situation ethics is another good way to devalue sin. If you can define right and wrong based on the situation then you are always going to be able to clear yourself of any wrongdoing. The natural tendency is to believe that the more I avoid thinking about guilt and sin, the more happy I will be.
It just doesn’t work that way. Guilt doesn’t go away if you deny or devalue sin. It eventually comes back to haunt you. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit…Blessed are those who mourn.” [v.3,4] The sooner I realize that the problem is that fella’ staring back at me in the mirror, the sooner the problem can be solved. When pride and self-righteousness are reduced to rubble, then there is room for Christ, but self-righteousness and Christ do not co-exist in a person’s heart.
The other half of the equation is to realize that true forgiveness can only come from Christ. A person can be just downright miserable and feel guilty and be looking for an outlet, but only Christ can provide true relief. Only Christ goes to the root of the problem. He has the solution for guilt in the blood that He shed on the cross. He took care of sin by being your substitute. Jesus truly got rid of guilt because He piled it on Himself. With such forgiveness He says to you, “yours is the kingdom of heaven,” and He gives you comfort. However, if you refuse to recognize your sin, the comfort and that citizenship will go away. Happiness comes from being poor in spirit and mourning over your sin.
Jesus continues, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.” [v.5] Again this goes against a natural tendency. We would like to demand our rights and look out for ourselves first and foremost. We are taught in too many arenas that you can’t be happy unless you put yourself first. “Not so,” says Jesus. To be meek is to be humble. That humility is exemplified in our Savior who humbled himself even to the point of the cross. The Lord tells us that we can afford to be humble because one day we will inherit the earth. In 1 Corinthians 6 we’re told not to let unbelieving judges settle disputes between Christians because we will judge the world and the angels (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:1-3). We will inherit a new heavens and a new earth. Serve in meekness.
There is one disclaimer, however. Don’t confuse meek with weak. Jesus was not weak. Elijah and John the Baptist were not weak. Paul and Peter were not weak. But they were all meek. They all served the Lord and their fellow man with humility. They were willing to put others first for the sake of their Savior. If you try to put yourself first you won’t be happy, because as you no doubt already know you won’t always get your way. Find happiness and fulfillment in being meek and humble and serving others.
The final Beatitude we consider today goes against the natural instinct of instant gratification. We are big on this. More and more young people in their twenties are racking up huge debts because they want the same house and vehicles that their parents have at age fifty. But there’s no age discrimination when it comes to wanting instant happiness. That is our default setting. But it will lead to frustration. We never find a point when we’re satisfied when it comes to pursuit of things. There’s always more that we want.
Jesus says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled. [v.6] You will find righteousness in Christ. You will find satisfaction in Christ. Every other avenue will only make you more hungry and thirsty. When we are in Christ we can say, “I have everything that I need. What more could I want than being declared righteous in His sight? How could I be dressed better than with a robe of righteousness? How could I be richer than having the promise of an inheritance in heaven?”
If you want to be happy, don’t waste time with the world’s plan. It is known to fail. Instead rely on God’s proven plan for happiness. It doesn’t agree with popular opinion. It doesn’t agree with your natural tendencies. Yet, it works. As you go through the many changes that life presents, don’t forget the source of true happiness. You are blessed and you will find joy in God’s directions and His promises. May His Holy Spirit grant that to us. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.