Story 58: The Intoxicating Beauty of Romantic Love and It’s Dangers in a Fallen World

Matthew 5:27-48

romantic sunset couple silhouettes

Jesus was teaching the Sermon on the Mount. He explained what it means to be a member of God’s Kingdom. The key is found in qualities of the heart such as purity, mercy, and meekness. These rich inner qualities will show outwardly in the way Christ’s followers respond to life. Jesus demanded that the members of His Kingdom have a standard far higher and deeper than anything the world had ever heard before. It isn’t enough not to murder. Christ’s followers have to get rid of malice, contempt, and insults, too. The inner reality matters to God. He sees all of who we are, and He wants it all to be wholly devoted to Him.  He calls His children to love. It is higher and more pure than anything in this world because it is heavenly.

Through the empowerment of Christ, the thoughts and attitudes of their inner heart will change, and will transform their outward behavior in turn. When the law of God is lived out with such utter faithfulness in this world, the difference is so deeply beautiful that it exhibits the goodness of God.

The next thing Jesus taught was about sexual purity. The first story in the Bible is the story of how God created the entire universe. The second story is about how God made the first man and woman for each other. It’s that important. They were made in the image of God to have a sacred union. They become one soul, and their love for each other is shown in every way. They give to each other emotionally, spiritually, and physically. That physical union is something they cannot have with anyone else. And the amazing thing is, that union brings whole new souls into the world. The physical expression of love between a husband and wife is very powerful, and it was designed to be held as a sacred, creating act that is special and unique between each couple. It was given as a deeply rich, pleasurable, joyful gift from God.

And then came the Fall. The destructive power of sin became a part of life, and relationships between men and women became just as broken and distorted as everything else. And because sexual expression is powerful and full of pleasure and delight, it is gets misused in selfish, foolish ways that are powerfully destructive. Adultery is a grave sin, and God condemns it sternly in the seventh commandment. It isn’t because God hates the beauty and pleasure of the physical relationship between a man and a woman…it was His idea.  He just created it to be so much more. It’s like trading diamonds for bottle caps.

When Jesus taught about the right way to understand this seventh commandment, He said:

“‘…I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’”

Wow.

This is a very high, extreme standard. Only God Himself can know if someone is following it. But Jesus was very serious. He told His listeners that if their eye caused them to stumble into lust, they should gouge it out! If their hand caused them to sin, they should cut it off! Do you really think that Jesus meant that they should harm their bodies? Or do you think He was trying to show how  serious this command is to God? The Lord was using extreme examples of what to do to stop the sin of lust because He knew how deep and intoxicatingly powerful it is.

Jesus knew how brutally hard men and women would have to work to remain pure. This area of sin is so powerful that it has to be aggressively destroyed. It is not something that can be played with or indulged in. The result is amazing. When godly men and women stand in this honorable, dignified self-control and restraint, they change the world around them.

Imagine the impact that the lavish love that is possible in a marriage has on the children born into it.  What protective power and righteousness good men brings to their communities! How they preserve the safety and purity of all those around them! How protected and safe the women and girls feel when they sense the power of Christ in their leaders and in their Christian brothers! How different life feels for them when men are their protectors instead of their predators. What models of hope they are for younger men as they learn to control their desires in the power of God! And how powerful the example of godly men, purified in the manly dignity of self-restraint, to the men of this world who are out of control and flailing helplessly in the weakness of their sinful nature!

This world discounts and holds in contempt the importance of these things. But the world is wrong, and the evidence of it is all of the perverse abuse and degradation going on all around us.  The lies of the world are hurting everyone who follows their deceptive poverty of truth.  They learn to accept that infidelity, betrayal, selfish, limited love, divorce, and distorted, even abusive sexuality are not only inevitable, but the norm.  They forget to even hope for what their hearts were made for. Or worse, they feel ashamed and weak for wanting it.  The innocent suffer as well.

Just as salt awakens the flavor of food so that it can be truly enjoyed, godly, pure men and women awaken an understanding of healthy, right relationship.  And just as salt preserves, godly men and women preserve the goodness that becomes eroded and lost in a lustful, degraded world.

When an entire community is committed to the ways of Christ and is honest about the vulnerability that is caused by the intoxicating power of human sexuality, everyone can get on board to protect everyone else…protect the marriages of others, protect our own spouse through our committed love and devotion, protect the vulnerable from their own sin and our own desire to exploit it, etc.  A socially stable, secure environment with healthy boundaries develops from the collective faithfulness and love of brothers and sisters in Christ.

But when sexuality is treated loosely, when we are more committed to being gratified by a look or by being looked at, when we allow secrets to fester, when we demand our “right” to live out the patterns of this world that destroy ourselves and others, when we reject the ways of God as outdated, judgmental, or unnecessary, the followers of Christ lose their capacity to act as salt and light. It means we have already failed to mourn sin, to be poor in spirit, and to hunger and thirst after His righteousness. The purity of our hearts has been tainted. If we refuse to make the hard decisions of love for each other, we will have a compromised voice in our proclamation of Christ. It is dangerous, and Jesus made His solution very clear: Gouge it out and cut it off.  Wage war against violations of purity to create a place in your heart for the rich, sacred beauty of the deeply loyal, protected love of a Christ filled marriage.

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Story 57: We Are Murderers All: What Are You Doing With Your Failure?

Matthew 5:21-26

Murder 2

Murdering the body of another person, taking their life unjustly, is a horrific sin. But there are many other ways to destroy someone, and perhaps the most devastating is by eviscerating and crushing their soul. Jesus said calling someone a fool is the same as murder. If we believe what the Bible says about humanity…that we are immortal souls that move on into eternity after we die, then ultimately the condition of the soul is more important that this these remarkable but temporary bodies we walk around in every day. If we destroy the soul of another with our words, with spiritual abuse, oppression, ridicule, rejection, neglect, or demands…then we have broken something that is eternally precious. The responsibility of relationships is breathtaking! If we are honest we can see the the requirements of love are beyond our reach. We need the Savior to transform our hearts and move in power in the hearts and souls that have been wounded by our failings. All of us have fallen short of God’s goodness, but every one of us can call upon Jesus to make all things new.

Jesus declared that the Laws and prophecies of the Old Testament would remain unbreakable and true until the end of time. In His own life on earth, the Lord obeyed them with absolute perfection in response to His heavenly Father. This was no drudgery. His love for His Father was great. He delighted to obey. It also wasn’t weakness. He wasn’t a pathetic weakling, shivering fearfully in the shadow of an ominous tyrant. He enjoyed doing right…and He had the power against all temptation to do it.

Think about your day. Were you able to always do exactly the right thing at all times? What are the things you struggle with? What thoughts? What temptations? What wears you down? What comforts, pleasures, or fears have power over you that you can’t resist? Be honest. Now consider that nothing in this world had that kind of power over Jesus. He had the breathtaking strength of total mastery over Himself at all times to respond only to the will of His God. He was magnificent in His response of holy perfection to His Father’s divine will.

The Lord Jesus wanted His disciples to have that dignifying strength as well. He wanted them to live in rich obedience to His Father. But there was a problem. Most of the Jewish people in Jesus’ audience knew about the Law from the teaching of their Jewish leaders. These leaders added their own traditions and rules.   They treated the thoughts of men as if they were equal to the Word of God and mixed them all up together. The people did not understand when they were learning the pure, bright, holy truth of Scripture, and when they were hearing the thoughts of regular, sinful men. Even as the people tried to obey their God, their leaders sent them down the wrong paths. They obeyed bad ideas. Everything was messed up!

Jesus knew the difference between the ways of God and the ways of men. He wanted to make it clear. In His Sermon on the Mount, he gave six examples of how the poor in spirit and pure in heart should seek to obey God’s commands.

As Jesus gave each example, He started with, “You have heard it said.” Then He would repeat a Law that the Jewish leaders had taught badly.   Then He would say, “But I tell you…”   Whoa. That is huge. Jesus was getting right in the face of the religious leaders, claiming He knew a better way to understand God’s Law. But the thing is, He had the right. He was the One who gave them the Law in the first place! His listeners were going to have to decide who to believe. Jesus made it clear that the common people of Israel were not only able to discern for themselves…they were expected to. They didn’t have to go through the religious leaders. God Himself had come to them, and those who had ears to hear would respond.

To help His listeners understand the right way to follow the Law, Jesus gave brilliantly clear examples of what it would look like in daily actions. It meant that the way they made everyday decisions was going to have to change. Even the thoughts in their heads could be purified!

As you read, watch how Jesus shows the penetrating, purifying hope of each Law. Imagine what a beautiful world it would be if everyone honored these laws in the deep places of their hearts! Imagine what Heaven is going to be like when we will be totally free from the Curse!

The first Law that Jesus wanted to illuminate was the truth of the Sixth Commandment. In Exodus 20:13 it says, “You shall not murder.” Now, it is really easy to understand from these words that God doesn’t want us to murder others. But the heart of this command went much deeper. It was about much more than actually killing someone. It was about respecting the whole life of another person. Every facet of every person’s life, all the way to the extremes of death, was to be honored before the God who made them. That wasn’t something the Jewish leadership of Jesus’ day wanted to do. Many of them reveled in belittling the lives of others and judging them. It made their teaching very shallow. Jesus was about to fix that. He said:

 “‘You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, “Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.”

 Now Jesus was going to explain how deep that command really was:

 “‘But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment…anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of Hell.”

The sixth commandment was not just about taking a life unjustly. It was about the attitude of the heart that each person holds towards everyone else. Most people will not murder someone in their lifetime. But we might fester in the deep, dark, angry malice and hatred of murder in our hearts…and it will destroy the potential for life and love in a thousand ways. Holding on to anger, showing contempt, insulting others, constantly comparing ourselves to others in a  jealous need to prove ourselves as superior, withholding love and forgiveness, gossiping…these are all forms of vengeance. They are ways we destroy another person to gratify ourselves. We may not kill the body, but we are stabbing and ripping through the souls of those around us, often in subtle but constant ways. It has no place in the Kingdom of Heaven.

A humble heart that is poor in spirit will seek to be continually purified from these things. A disciple who longs to be worthy of God’s Kingdom will be very careful to have a right relationship with others, and they will diligently guard against these dark attitudes in the heart and mind. And we know that Jesus will be right there with us, applying the work He did on the cross for our forgiveness and transformation, interceding for us before God as our Great High Priest (check out the book of Hebrews).

Jesus went on to describe some things that His followers can do to live out the goodness of this idea. Let’s say you did something to offend someone else. You know you are wrong. This sign of a genuinely pure heart is that it will be so eager and determined to make things right that they will rush to the person to ask for forgiveness. In fact, Jesus said that even if you were in the middle of doing something for God…something high and holy like offering sacrifices to God, you should stop what you are doing to make things right with the person you wronged. Reconciling and making things right is even more important than the most sacred religious ritual…and a repentant spirit is an even greater gift to God. Isn’t He beautiful? How He longs for us to love each other!

Jesus went on to explain that it is wrong to offer gifts to God while allowing tensions to fester with fellow brothers and sisters in His Kingdom. If we are being taken to court, we should try to settle it before we even get to the judge. We have to fight for peace.

Now, this passage might give some the impression that anger itself is a terrible sin. Is anger always wrong? John the Baptist furiously rebuked the religious leaders for being a brood of vipers. He called them out for being poisonous snakes in front of everyone! Jesus called them that, too, and He was angry when He did! Was Jesus sinning? We know that can’t be true. When Jesus and John spoke these harsh words, they were speaking out against injustice and sin. They were standing up for the righteousness of God. That is powerfully pure and holy thing to do.

When most of us say harsh things, it is not out of righteous judgment. Usually when we are insulting or demeaning to someone, it is because of our malice and pride and envy. That is a very great sin. But there will be times when believers are called on by the Spirit of God to speak truth against corruption, and they will be filled with righteous anger when they do. It is right to feel anger about the things that anger God.

The disciples of Christ’s Kingdom can rely on the Lord for wisdom to know the difference between their own anger and malice and the pure, holy anger that comes from the Lord. As followers of Christ destroy their malice and cynicism towards others by inviting the work of God’s Spirit into their lives, their ability to love will grow. It will be a wonderful, bright light that shines on a hill and shows the people of this world the ways of God’s Kingdom!

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Story 56: Fullness of Meaning: When the Word was Taught by the One Who Wrote It

Matthew 5:17-20

Book. Opened book with special light. Education

The Word alive: A lot of times we think we have learned something when the facts of it are recorded somewhere in our heads. Or when we can explain it clearly to others or debate with our opposition.  But often, those kinds of understanding are very limited. It’s like watching a video of a baby and saying you know what it’s like to have the deeply joyful, life transforming experience of becoming a mother or a father. We can know many facts about God…about Jesus…without ever having the deep, rich experience of His love. We can know the ways of outward obedience…we can even live a lot of that obedience…without ever experiencing deep transformation of the heart. We can even preach the Word of God with great eloquence but have inner lives filled with lust, rage, and arrogance. And in His lavish love and grace, Jesus comes to us and says, “Sweet children, it doesn’t have to be that way.” Jesus explained the route of rescue. Humility. Repentance. Meekness. Mourning sin. Allowing God to purify our hearts so that we can see Him. We can meditate on Jesus’ Words and pray…we can ask Him for transformation. And we can be sure that this act of faith will move His heart.

Jesus preached the heart-wrenchingly beautiful qualities of a disciple as the opening poem of the Sermon on the Mount. Then He taught that the humility and dependence of His blessed ones would be like salt and light to the rest of the world.

This wasn’t the first time humanity was given a lesson about how to live for God. God had already taught the Jewish people many things about how to honor and obey Him. He raised up Moses to write down His Law for His people, the nation of Israel.  They were meant to bless the world by living out the incredible goodness of His Law on earth.  For many centuries afterward, He sent His prophets to confront the nation and challenge them to obey it. If only they had…it would have brought the model of harmony, peace, protection, and freedom from endless poverty and need that the burdened people of this fallen world long for.  But they didn’t. Even with all of the breathtaking gifts that the Lord had given the nation of Israel, they were still members of the human race, the broken image of God, slaves to the sin and shame of rebellion against the Only Source of Good.  All those hundreds of years of striving proved a point.  Humanity needed a Savior that came from outside of humanity.  God had to show up Himself.

When Jesus got up to teach the Sermon on the Mount, He wasn’t teaching a bunch of brand new ideas.  And He definitely wasn’t rejecting the Old Testament.  Jesus is the Son of God. He was the One who gave Moses the Law. They were His ideas. His knowledge and understanding of the Jewish Law were matchless.   He was so insightful that He amazed the religious leaders when He was only twelve years old!  Jesus was not under the authority of the Law like the religious leaders of His day. He reigned in authority over the Law. It’s His. He wrote it. It is a reflection of His character. So when He began to teach about the Law in the Sermon on the Mount, He was teaching His disciples it’s truest meaning. He said:

“‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law and the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them.’”

When Jesus says, “the Law and the Prophets,” he is talking about the whole Old Testament. This sacred book was given to the Jewish people to prepare the way in this cursed world for the coming of the Savior. In this simple sentence, Jesus declared that He Himself fulfilled the Old Testament. That is an astonishing thing to say. The Old Testament was written by dozens of authors over thousands of years. It involved millions of people and entire civilizations. The Law was given to Moses on a mountain where the holy presence of God came with quaking thunder and fire. The prophets spoke across hundreds of years about epic events that would lead to the transformation of the entire created order. And in this one, small, simple sentence, Jesus claimed to be nothing less than the fulfillment of it all. Wow. If it isn’t true, then He was either a fool or a liar. If it is true, then the only thing left to do is to fall down and worship Him as Savior.

But the question remains. How was He the fulfillment of the Old Testament? How could one Man do it all within Himself?

We will see that He would do this in many ways. In His teachings, like in the Sermon on the Mount, He would teach the Law as it was truly meant to be taught in all it’s depth and fullness. Then He would go out and live the Law perfectly through His life of absolute righteousness. The Law was completely fulfilled through Him as He walked the earth!

Jesus would also show the fulfillment of the Old Testament through the events of His life that echo back to the amazing things God did in the past for the Jewish nation.  When we think of Israel’s forty years in the wilderness, we remember that Christ spent forty days in the desert. When we hear Jesus teach that He was the bread of life, we remember that God miraculously gave bread of manna to the Jewish people day after day as they wandered in the wilderness towards the Promise Land.   When we think about the animal sacrifices that the nation made year after year to atone for their sin, we see how the Old Testament rituals of blood sacrifice were like a shadow of the hope that Jesus won completely through His sacrifice on the cross (check out the book of Hebrews). When we see the veiled images in the Psalms and Isaiah about an innocent Servant who would suffer for the sins of the world, our hearts ache with our knowledge of Christ’s crucifixion (See Psalm 22, Isaiah 49, 52-53). When we read the epic declarations of the prophets about the apocalyptic ending of human history and the universe as we know it, we can read ahead in the book of Revelation and see how they all culminate in the return of Christ on the Day of the Lord. Everything in the Old Testament points to Him.

The Old Testament teaches about God’s work before Christ. The coming of the Lord Jesus was His next stage. The whole purpose of Christ’s life was to the advance the will of God. His life and death and resurrection are the center of God’s plan. Jesus was teaching His disciples so they could carry the torch of God’s plans into the next stage… after Christ died and rose again.

To the religious leaders of Jesus’ time, the Lord’s message seemed strange. It was so different from what they had been teaching. But that wasn’t because Jesus was wrong or disobedient. He said and did exactly what God wanted. It was the Sadducees and Pharisees who were wrong about the Old Testament. They added things to it and put pressure on the people that God never intended. Jesus came like a sword and cut through their lies and control and distortions, slicing them away so that the true message of the Most High God could be made clear again. He showed what God truly wanted so that the faithful could draw near to their living Lord! If the religious leaders had been hungry for what God really meant in the Old Testament, they would have been happy to throw aside their false notions and follow hard after His Son. But they were not like the true disciples of the Lord…they were not poor in spirit, they were not meek, and they did not mourn their sin.

Jesus went on to warn that anyone who broke God’s commands in the Old Testament or taught others to so would be the very least in His Kingdom. This is what the Pharisees and the religious leaders could not seem to understand. They added to the Law by creating terrible standards of outward behavior that put people in a grip of fear.  Instead of teaching their people to love the wonderful beauty of the Law and the glorious order and goodness it could bring to their hearts, to their families, and to their nation, it became a shackle of fear and legalism around the people’s necks.

The Jewish leaders had choices. They could have taught how the Law was a guide for how to love one another. Instead, they did the opposite. The Law became a tool to divide and shame. Jesus said that whoever dishonored the teaching of the Law was the very least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But whoever taught the Law well and lived it out in their lives would be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven. Wow.

The only problem was, the religious leaders had been distorting and teaching the Word the wrong way for a long time…as in hundreds of years. How would any of the Jewish people know how to teach it the right way? They had been taught deceptions about the Law since they were children! Well, that is exactly what Jesus was overturning. And its what got Him in so much trouble.

In the Sermon He was about to give, Jesus was going to teach the people to move beyond outward obedience of God’s laws and move deeper into the inward obedience of the heart. Members of His Kingdom would not only do the right outward actions, they would be purified in the depths of their heart so that even their longings matched the pure righteousness of God.  He was going to teach how a disciple who was truly poor in spirit…who mourned his or her sin, was meek, pure in heart and hungering after righteousness…would obey God’s commands. It was the way God wanted His people to obey Him all along! In the next section of the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus gave six examples of true obedience to the Law of the Old Testament.

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Story 55: Salt and Light

Matthew 5:13-16

red sunset in the mountains on a black background

In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus started by describing the qualities of those who are blessed in His Kingdom. They are very different from the things that receive respect and honor in the eyes of the world. They look like Him.

Faithful ones in Christ seek to grow in the humility of the poor in spirit, in their mournful sorrow against the ravages of sin, in the meekness of having all their gifts and talents firmly given over to Jesus to be used as He wills…and in their longing to grow in ever increasing righteousness. They cultivate a life of mercy that reaches out to those who are in need, a purity of heart that wants to be cleansed from any hint of shameful or sinful attitudes, a peacemaking spirit that seeks to bring harmony and understanding, and an utter devotion to God that is utterly loyal to Him even when it means persecution and loss.

Do you know people who have these beautiful qualities? Do you see how they have power in Christ to bring His goodness and light into any situation? It requires great bravery, internal strength…but not based on pride, for it is impossible to build a life on pride when humility is a core ingredient. It has to be built on trust in God that continues to strengthen in response to God’s discipleship as we travel through the life He has ordained for us (See Romans 4, 9 and Acts 17).

This growing faith gives believers the ability to be a blessing to the world. It starts when we first respond to Jesus and His purification in the deep places of our hearts. The Lord transforms us so that we can be His agents that transform the world.   It is an important part of the spread of God’s Kingdom. We have a very sacred role to play in God’s plan.

A lot of times we are tempted to try to live for His Kingdom out of our own strength. We tend to want to do big, impressive things for God to show the world how great He is and how much we love Him. Isn’t it interesting that this seems to be exactly the opposite of how Jesus described those who truly bless God and are blessed by Him? Jesus spoke of the quiet, unseen things in the heart where the truth of who we really are resides. The foundation of all those wonderful qualities in the Beatitudes is devoted love to Him. Those qualities are merely the evidence of that surrendered love. It turns out that what He wants from us is also our deepest need: enthrallment in His love and utter dependence on Him.

If Jesus had followed the way of world, His ministry would have looked very different. He might have been tempted to follow Satan when the Enemy of God offered Him the all the kingdoms of the earth. That would have been impressive, but Jesus rebuked the Evil One instead. In the greatness of His meek strength, He chose the way of humble obedience. In the short run, it cost Him everything. In the long run, He won it all.

Whatever faith our outward religion seems to show, true faith begins in the deep places of surrendered love. But that isn’t where it ends. If we hide our gifts or don’t share what we have been given, we dishonor what the Lord has done for us. This is how Jesus described it:

“‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness,how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.’”

 Wow. Think of the last time you ate food that needed more salt.  It can be pretty flavorless. But when you add salt, the flavor comes alive. It’s like eating a totally different food. Wherever the disciples of Jesus go, they should bring the flavor of the goodness of everlasting life. It changes the flavor of life in the here and now by adding knowledge of God’s love and the expectations of eternity. It infuses the joy that comes with the vibrancy of the Spirit inside us. The drudgeries and challenges of this fallen world don’t leave such a bad taste when they are overpowered by hope. The Lord uses our faith in His promises to reconcile the lost to Jesus. They can share in the same vivid hope and experience all the new flavors of life.

In the time of Christ, salt was also used to preserve food. It kept it from going bad. When His disciples are actively choosing to live a salty, vivid life, they bless the world and preserve righteousness on earth. Any community or culture that is blessed to have believers who are truly following the ways of Christ is a much healthier, more stable, less corrupt place. They bring their honesty, hard work, strong moral values, generosity, and their prayers. They act like Jesus, so they are everywhere protecting the vulnerable…acting to bring healing, relief to the poor, and love to the lonely. And though they are meek, they are unafraid of the bullies and tyrants. Once a life has truly been given to God, a tyrant has very little power. Fully alive and faithful Christians help keep the societies they are in from going over the edge into wicked self-destruction, and they offer the light of Christ as the better way for those who want to repent. This creates a beautiful cycle of regeneration within a community. The most wicked, disgusting sinner can find new life…the most hurt and broken soul finds a place of love and acceptance. These are the beginnings of God’s Promises…the foretastes of Heaven.

But if the disciples of Jesus let go of their purpose and refuse to bless as Jesus taught, they become useless and tasteless to the world. They have no effect, and society itself begins to rot.   Even worse, they give the impression that their poor behavior, selfish unwillingness to act, and powerless faith reflect the best that Christ has to offer, and so they stand blocking the way between the lost and the God who offers them life. It is a horrible sin.  As we read about Jesus’ life on earth, we will see that it was the thing that angered Him most.

Jesus gave another image of how His disciples are meant to be a part of His transforming work:

 “‘You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in Heaven.’”

Imagine a place of deep, thick darkness. Picture yourself trying to walk forward, not able to see anything at all. You might stumble down a hole or run into something. Someone could jump out at you and you wouldn’t know how to defend yourself. It would feel a little bit like being lost. It’s vulnerable.

Now imagine what it would be like if someone lit just one candle. It’s light would suddenly show the shapes and forms of everything around you. You would know so much more about how to go forward.

This world is a dark place. The people of earth are shrouded in confusion and deception. They have all kinds of false answers about the right way to live that actually crush their souls. It causes them tremendous pain, sadness…death. Satan and his followers relentlessly spread darkness through false religions, bondage to fleeting pleasures, and oppression. When a disciple of Jesus enters in and shows the love of Jesus by seeking to make peace amidst violence, or by showing beautiful humility against wretched pride, or by wholeheartedly trusting God instead of riches and power, it is like lighting a thousand candles.

There is a reason that the lives of people like  Athanasius, Wilberforce, Deitrich Bonhoeffer, St. Francis of Assisi, Corrie TenBoom, Hudson Taylor, Mother Teresa, Dwight L. Moody, and Amy Carmichael resonate so deeply in the hearts of the people of this world.  (And if you don’t recognize these names, look them up.  Their stories breath life!) As they followed Jesus with radical humility and surrender, He made them beautiful.  The fact of their beauty is impossible to deny.  It touches even the hardest of hearts.

When followers of Christ show that there are ways the human soul is designed to live and other ways that crush and tear it, they provide the new, needed set of choices that make things right and whole again. Suddenly, the ugliness of Satan is exposed. Suddenly, righteousness is defined brightly against the darkness. The way forward is no longer a mystery. The light of Christ has made a way by shining through His followers.

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Story 54: The Terrible Beauty of the Beatitudes

Matthew 5:1-10

Jesus crucifixion

For the persecuted ones…He went ahead of you and loves you…and His victory is yours.

When we read the Beatitudes, we see a picture of the qualities a disciple of Christ is meant to grow in. The descriptions are of a people so full of meekness and mercy that it is hard to imagine anyone would want to persecute them. And yet reality has proven quite the opposite. Most people wouldn’t say that the Beatitudes are wrong. They are so beautiful that even the darkest mind can recognize it. But in a world of sin and evil, becoming like Jesus invites persecution.

As we mourn our sin and the suffering and shame of this fallen world, there will be those who try to stop us from repenting or from wanting to be a part of God’s work against the Curse. As we grow in our hunger and thirst for righteousness, we might be fired from jobs because we won’t take bribes or lie, or because we insist on honest wages. As we stand determined to show mercy to others, we might find ourselves snubbed and rejected by those who don’t want to show mercy and want nothing to do with those who do.  If someone isn’t hungering and thirsting after righteousness, it means they are hungering and thirsting after something else, and often they are willing to fight pretty hard to get it and protect it.

In the power of Christ, we have the strength to let go of greed and pride of position, mourn the ugliness of the Fall, and lift up those who have been crushed by it. But the world will not often celebrate us. That is when the test for the pure in heart will come. Were we doing it for them, or were we doing it for Christ?

The Beatitudes show us a depth and power of soul that is stunning…glorious…in its goodness.  It tells us that it is possible to have hearts of full faithfulness that will long for the eternal hope of honoring their God and King, even if it means losing everything here on earth. We can have hearts so full of God that as we stand for Christ in the midst of persecution, we will delight because we are fully convinced we will gain the Kingdom of Heaven, and it will matter more than anything in this world.  When losses come and our faith is challenged, we will have power to turn to Christ, just as Abraham did (see Romans 4) and find our faith strengthened to believe that God can do everything He has promised.  Jesus said that with persecution His followers should rejoice and be glad. The prophets and great saints of the Old Testament had been persecuted in the same terrible way, and it is an honor to be counted among them.  A part of the process of our becoming the kind of people with that strength of soul is to be honest and repentant about all the ways we are not that kind of people.  And a part of being strengthened in faith is to believe He can make us so…and to want it.

When I think about what some of our brothers and sisters are going through across the world, I cannot imagine rejoicing. I find the things that God requires of His beloved absolutely kick-me-in-the-stomach breathtaking.  I can see myself complaining and wrestling with my faith. I can see myself having to die to a whole lot of comfort and entitlement. Which is why these breathtaking statements are such a gift. They reveal my own heart to me.

Jesus understood in the depths of His soul the glorious, epic greatness of God’s love and how small this life and everything in it is by comparison. When the thought of persecution (and our repulsion of it) lays bare the things we are most committed to…comfort…security…wealth…the refusal to consider certain kinds of obedience to God…it gives us a crucial opportunity to make a different set of choices.   It shows us new things we can offer to God. It shows us that there are deep joys that we have not discovered because they are blocked and masked over by the false joys of this world. It opens doors to new kinds of obedience, to tear off and crucify the things that give us more joy than the things that Jesus said should be our joy.

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Story 53: Persecuted Ones: His Love for You is Great

Matthew 5:10

Crown of Thorns

Many of the great tyrants and dictators across the ages were perfectly willing to allow others to suffer for their empires and ideals. Very few have been willing to shoulder the worst of it themselves. It is right to call Jesus the One True King not only because it is a fact of this universe and all eternity, but because He is the only One who is worthy of the title.

As I prepare this blog, my heart trembles. I have never been called upon to truly suffer for my faith. One of the interesting things about blogging is that I can check every day to see how many people have read my posts and what countries they are from.  It shows me that some of them are from places where we know people are suffering real persecution for Jesus. I am utterly humbled by the task of writing about the great love Jesus has for them and the tremendous blessings they will receive because they stand firm.   If you are one of them, please give me the privilege of praying for you…Lord Jesus, may Your presence be powerful, rich, and protective over these precious brothers and sisters. Strengthen their hearts and bodies and make a way for Your goodness and mercy on their behalf.   May we all continue to be faithful in prayer and use our resources to take our stand with the persecuted Church. Here is a website that can help us do that: http://www.persecution.com.

In the eighth beatitude, Jesus said:

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.”

There are many ways in the history of Christianity that people have been persecuted for their faith.  Over the last two thousand years, millions of faithful saints have been beaten, put in jail, tortured, and even killed because of their loyalty to the name of Jesus Christ. In fact, more people have suffered across the world for Jesus in our generation than at any other time in history. They may not look very blessed in this world, but they will be lavished with tremendous blessings for all eternity.

Everlasting life is a very long time, and when we have lived in God’s perfect bliss and peace for trillions upon trillions of earth-years, the seventy or so years we had to live on earth will seem like a mere breath…a tiny piece of dust compared to the vast amounts of life we’ll have in Heaven.  The terrible moments of persecution when believers stood faithful to the High King of Heaven in this life will certainly seem worth it then…it carries a weight of glory worth far more than gold! The book of Revelation talks about the tremendous honor the persecuted saints will receive in Revelation 12:10-11:

10 Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say:

“Now have come the salvation and the power


and the kingdom of our God,


and the authority of His Messiah.
  For the accuser of our brothers

and sisters,


who accuses them before our God day and night,


has been hurled down.

11 They triumphed over Him


by the blood of the Lamb


and by the word of their testimony;


they did not love their lives so much


as to shrink from death.

The book of Revelation tells us how this world is going to end, and even though it hasn’t happened yet, we can be certain that it is absolutely true. God will work in power to insure that the testimony of the saints will triumph with Christ over Satan, the Great Enemy of God.   That time has not yet come, but God promised it from His throne. See Revelation 6:9-11:

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the full number of their fellow servants, their brothers and sisters, were killed just as they had been.

The Lord knows each of His faithful ones by name.  He knows the good deeds they do for Him, and the hardship they suffer out of their great love for Him. He can be trusted to honor His beloved for every bit of it.  One day there will be no more tears or pain. He will make all things new.  The Day of the White Robes will be beautiful indeed…and all of us…every believer who has ever lived and all of the angels will celebrate with Christ over you for what you have done.

Persecution can come in the form of torture and death. Persecution also comes in much quieter ways. As we seek to be poor in spirit in the work of daily life, we might struggle against proud and arrogant people. We might be put down, passed over, or lonely because we aren’t willing to get sucked into corruption and sin. But it is worth it to stand with courage and conviction, remembering the power of the risen Lord, and remaining loyal to the One who deserves it.

 

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Story 52: On Purity and Grace

Matthew 5:8-9

water flowing from plastic bottle into a glass

In a lot of places in the world, perhaps especially in the West, the concept of purity doesn’t mean much unless we are talking about our water. The way we think, spend our time, our desires and hopes…they can take any shape or form they want as long as we aren’t breaking any laws…or at least not getting caught. And then we wonder why there is so much pain in the world…and within ourselves. The importance of purity is easy to understand with water…the crisp clean look and taste of clean water makes that obvious…especially if the last glass you drank was contaminated. So why is it such a stretch to consider, to find deeply important, the purity of something infinitely more valuable…the purity of the human heart? Christ didn’t shrink from this. If we want to see Him, neither can we.

As Jesus taught about those who would be blessed in the Kingdom of Heaven, the next thing he said was, “‘Blesses are the pure in heart, for they will see God.’” What does it mean to see God? And for that matter, what does it mean to be pure in heart?

To find out if we are pure in heart, we have to ask some very hard questions. The questions are not about the outward things we do, like whether we go to church every week. It is not about whether we look the way we think a Christian is supposed to look. We have to ask deeper questions about what is really going on inside our hearts…and we have to be starkly honest about the dark things that are really there. It is amazing how quickly we can deceive ourselves or ignore the areas of our lives that we aren’t proud of. It is one of the bravest things a person can do, but how else can we offer those things to Jesus?

Some of the questions go like this:

  • Are there certain sins I want to keep doing, even though I know they are wrong?
  • What thoughts do I have that I would be ashamed to share with others?
  • Do I enjoy thinking about or talking about others in a malicious way?
  • Do I serve Jesus to keep people from judging me or to win compliments?
  • Do I serve others so that they will owe me for my work, or do I do it as a clean and pure offering to the Lord?
  • Do I laugh at things that offend Jesus? Do I enjoy it when others are shamed or embarrassed?
  • Is there anyone I feel jealous of when something good happens to them?
  • Am I more caught up in being comfortable, getting rich, having the right clothes or cell phone, than I am in my love for Christ and His Kingdom?
  • Is there anyone I treat as if they are someone I can use or is beneath me, or do I seek to treat others with the dignity and love of Christ?
  • If I recorded the voice in my head, what would it sound like? Are there lies I’m believing or living out of?

These are just a few of the kinds of questions that can help us search our own hearts. They help show us the places that are toxic and destructive. Jesus wants to come into our hearts and purify them, drawing us near to His perfect love. When we set everything else aside to let Him do that work in us, we come to see Him more and more clearly. Our own negative ways of thinking, mistrust, jealousy, anger, shame, and hatred are no longer the filters that we see the world through…or understand God with. We begin to see the world around us and the people in our lives with greater purity and goodness.

But how?  Well, for one, we need to be patient with ourselves and our feelings.  If we bravely ask for the Lord to reveal to us what He wants to show us and ask the hard questions, then He will be faithful.  Then we can take the sin and shame and confess it to Jesus.  Say: “Lord Jesus, I have…” then tell Him what you’ve done or what attitude you’ve had.  Then repent: “Lord, I am wrong, and I don’t want to sin against You in this way anymore” and ask Him for forgiveness.   Then say thank You to Him because we know that when we confess our sins He is faithful to forgive us.  In fact, it might be good to spend some time thinking about your new forgiveness and freedom and to keep on thanking Him, because sometimes we tend to hold onto guilt instead of finding joy in what He’s done.

A lot of times we will struggle with sins over and over again.  It will be hard to conquer them.  Often, when we face areas of sin, it makes them seem even more glaring and terrible and we want to turn away and ignore them again.  That doesn’t help.  We need to fight our sinful patterns even when it gets messy…and it will.  Just ask anyone recovering from an addiction.  The messiness can go from bad to worse, but we are meant to keep calling on the name of Jesus and fighting.  We can ask others for help and accountability, and we keep fighting.  It might go from bad to worse…it might get messier and messier.  It might take years.  But then it will take a turn.  Things will start to change.  What was once a torturous temptation won’t be so painful to walk away from.  It will get easier to be the kind of person you want to be.  And then, as full freedom comes, it will be beautiful.  We can know in the full length of that battle that Jesus is right there with us, loving that we are hungering and thirsting for righteousness even as we stumble and fall in our weakness.  He is the Lord of grace, and He will help us on our way to freedom.

One day, when this age is over and Christ brings us all to Heaven to be with Him in everlasting life, we will be completely transformed and made perfectly pure in His love. We will be made to be like Jesus, and our weary struggle with sin will be over. We will love with perfection. But until that day, we are striving towards that goal, and as we do, Jesus brings His Kingdom through us.

Jesus went on. He said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Jesus, of course, is the great peacemaker. When He died and rose again, He conquered sin and death. The pure and holy, Most High God of the universe has made a way for sinful men to have peace with Him. He took our sin away and gave us His righteousness. He made peace between you and I and God!

Believers in Christ know that God took the impossible and made it possible. Since we know that this amazing miracle has already happened, we have great hope of what God can do in our world. We love…even those who have hurt us. We seek to bring peace between people who seem to hate each other. We seek solutions where no solutions seem possible. We forgive even when it is totally undeserved. We have freedom not to defend ourselves and fight for our rights at every turn because we trust Jesus to fight for us. We can lay down our pride and act with humility, disarming the tensions of proud and angry men and women. And sometimes we set protective boundaries so the vulnerable cannot be hurt any longer, and the wicked have less opportunity to sin. We bring peace.

When we take on that role of bringing peace in a hostile and divided world, we are blessed. God is pleased. We become sons and daughters of God because to become His child means we are being transformed to His character.

 

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Story 51: On Meekness, Mercy, and the Hunger

Matthew 5:5-7

hands holding the sun at dawn

There are gifts that someone can hand you, that you can hold and turn over and appreciate. There are also gifts that cannot be physically touched, but are still very real…and far more powerful than anything else we can give. Those are often the gifts God gives us…His blessings of love, mercy, and grace…the capacity for righteousness…He can even give us the desire to want to be righteousness. These things don’t fill our hands, they fill our hearts…though once our hearts are filled, our hands often get very busy acting like Jesus by showing His mercy and love to the people around us.

Crowds upon crowds of people had come from all over the nation of Israel and the surrounding countries to see Jesus, the popular young preacher who performed amazing miracles and taught about God in a radical new way.  The book of Matthew recorded the teaching given by Christ through this time in the Sermon on the Mount.  In the first verses of the Sermon, Jesus explained who the blessed are in the Kingdom of Heaven as they make their way on earth. First He explained the blessings for the poor in spirit and those who mourn. Then He said: “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

A lot of times when people use the word “meek,” they are describing someone who is weak and sickly. That isn’t quite what it really means, at least in Scripture. A meek person is not someone who is timid and unsure. They aren’t a pushover that everyone else can order around. In fact that is the opposite of what it means. Meekness is great power under the control of someone who is strong enough to master it.

Think of a large, muscular horse that can kick down doors and throw off anyone who tries to ride it. Then imagine that same powerful horse standing with a rider on its back, in total control of itself and responsive to whatever its Master says.   The horse is strong enough to put its power under the guidance of the Master, and that Master can do great things with it. He can ride into battle knowing that his horse will not run away in fear or flinch when the fighting comes.

When we put our faith in Jesus, we are given new life and new strength. Meekness is when we actively put those gifts in the hands of God to serve Him. We offer our strength to Jesus, our Master, so that He can use us for His Kingdom.

The meek receive huge blessings from God. They will inherit the earth!     Sometimes in this world it seems like the selfish and arrogant are the ones who win. Think about the people who use their talent and strength to take what they can. They often make more money and have more power. But God says that in the end, it pays to be meek. The Lord sees every humble act of quiet obedience, and He promises to reward it lavishly. The meek will not demand the things of this world through sin, but they will inherit the whole earth through His love.

It takes a lot of faith to trust that in the end, meekness wins. In this age of the world, it seems like the opposite is true. But as depth of love for Jesus grows, so does the longing to be freed from the drives of this world.  As vision for the goodness of His Kingdom expands, the need to find identity and hope in the things that will pass away diminishes. A great mark of a life maturing in faith is the power to be meek.

The next thing Jesus said was, “‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.’” Imagine what it is like to feel really, really hungry. You can’t think of anything else, and you’ll do almost anything to fill your stomach. That is the kind of hunger the Lord is talking about here.

We already know that none of us can be righteous on our own. We need the righteousness of Christ! So how do we pursue that? Well, Jesus has already told us. A righteous person is someone who is poor in spirit. They are humble, and so they mourn for their sin. They are also meek, so even their strengths are humbly submitted to God, longing for Jesus to be glorified. These are beautiful marks of righteousness, for they are the way to depend on the Lord wholeheartedly. Being righteous is not about following rules. Being perfect with the rules will not satisfy our hunger. Jesus Himself is the only thing that can satisfy it. And the amazing thing is that God promises we will be filled!

As a follower of Jesus grows in their hunger for righteousness, things will begin to transform in their hearts. The desire to honor the Lord becomes a deep need. It is their first want. They long to have patterns and habits of life that are in obedience to God’s will at all times. They learn to listen to the Lord, quieting themselves so they can hear Him and respond. The testimony of the saints across hundreds and even thousands of years is that this becomes their great source of joy and hope. They actually feel delighted by it the way most of us feel delighted by chocolate or by a compliment or by falling in love.

Often we tend to treat God’s ways as a burden, as something we have to do. We treat sin like it is something wonderful that we have to sacrifice. We resent not being able to do what we want as if God is withholding something from us that we deserve. Or we just do it anyhow and expect God to show us grace. But someone that hungers and thirsts for righteousness scorns sin as a waste of time. They look at it cold in the face and take note of all the pain and destruction it actually causes ourselves and others. They love the goodness of God so much that they are running after it, headlong and full of triumphant happiness that they have found the way to please God. That is their first happiness.

For most of us, even the best of Christians, the hunger and thirst for righteousness is something that ebbs and flows. We will go through periods of rich spiritual depths where we experience the love of the Lord. And then we will feel dry, temptations will come and we will feel weak against them. We will give in to sin. And because we long to honor God, we feel terrible about it. That is when remembering the amazing grace of Christ is most important. That is a good time to read verses like Psalm 51 that talk about how much God loves a repentant heart. Repentance is part of righteousness. A hunger and thirst for righteousness is something we can ask for. Jesus will keep filling us with it in greater measure as we come to the One who is our righteousness.

The next blessing Jesus gave was this: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” What does the word “mercy” mean? Is it the same thing as grace? What is the difference? Well, grace is when someone gives love to someone who doesn’t deserve it. Mercy is when love is given to someone who is helpless and in need. Grace is when we give love to someone who has proven they are unworthy of it. God shows us His grace every day by showering us with His lavish love. We offer mercy when we give our love to those who are suffering and in trouble. Every human on earth constantly receives God’s mercy. Without Him, we would be without everything we need…the sun, the rotating earth that gives us day and night, the air we breath, the food we eat…we would be impoverished to the point of death if God didn’t constantly provide these things to us at all times. We are also desperately in need of a Savior! Everyone has sinned and fallen short of God’s goodness. God was merciful and gracious to us when He sent his Son.

When we are truly poor in spirit and recognize how sinful we are, the heart becomes extremely grateful to Jesus for the mercy and forgiveness He has shown us. That process softens the heart to be willing to show the same mercy to others. The wonderful mercy of Christ that we receive will flow out from us like a fresh, gentle stream! And as it does, we move into the blessing that Christ promised: we receive greater measures of His mercy.

 

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Story 50: Rich in Blessings, Poor in Spirit

Matthew 5:3-11

Cemetery architecture - Europe

Mourning is usually a sign of losing something valuable to us. But what if we are mourning something that is hurting ourselves and those we love? What if it is allowing ourselves to think deeply and be sad about things that we have done that violate the goodness of God? When mourning is part of repentance from sin, it is part of a cleansing, freeing process that allows God to come in and bring deep change.

The Sermon on the Mount begins with these words:

“‘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.

Blesses 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 the sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted

because of righteousness

for there is the kingdom of heaven.’”

Matthew 5:3-10

These words are like the doorway to being a disciple.   In each verse, the Lord did not give a specific action, like “serving” or “sharing the Gospel.” He gave qualities of the heart, and then He tells what the blessing will be for those who have them. Let’s start with the first one.

The first quality is to be poor in spirit.  At first glance, it might seem like this is about not having any cash or lacking courage or confidence. Neither of these ideas fit what Jesus meant. The Old Testament describes what it is to be poor in spirit in Isaiah 57:15. The Lord said, “I live in a high and holy place, but also with him who is contrite and lowly in spirit, to revive the spirit of the lowly and to revive the heart of the contrite.” The Most High God loves it when His children come to Him with humble hearts. He loves to revive them with joy and peace! He gives them the Kingdom of Heaven! In Isaiah 66:2, the Lord says “This is the one I esteem, he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.’”

Do you remember what happened when Peter realized that Jesus was Lord? He had been out fishing all night and had caught nothing, but then Jesus gave him a wonderful miracle. He told Peter to cast his nets into the water one more time. Peter obeyed, and suddenly, his nets were bulging with fish.

This amazing miracle opened Peter’s eyes to the glory of the Lord.   He fell to his knees in reverent fear and said, “‘Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.’” When Peter realized the majesty of Christ, he also saw how poor and weak he truly was. He immediately got down on his knees and bowed to Jesus.

It wasn’t that Peter had no worth as a human being. He was made in the image of God! But when he compared it to the bright, blazing purity of Christ’s holiness and power, his own goodness was like nothing. It highlighted the deeply wicked sin and unbelief of his heart and his own distorted motives, and he was deeply repentant. He hated his sin, so he fell to his knees. And Peter was surely given the Kingdom of Heaven!

Some people can do really well and brag about it so much that they make everyone around them feel like they are something less. But have you ever been around someone who was so genuinely good that they made you want to be more in the best ways? What a beautiful image of how God longs for His people to come to Him!

Jesus started the Sermon on the Mount by declaring that no human can come to God unless they are poor in spirit. Only those who come with humility will be accepted into the Kingdom of Heaven. When we try to earn righteousness out of our own strength and in our own power, we are in terrible danger. Our own desire for pleasure or personal glory or comfort, our pride and our conceited competition against others, will take over and destroy anything that was good in our efforts. Nobody can get into the Kingdom through their own righteousness. We must come in repentance and humility before Jesus, aware of our need for His grace and confident that we have it.

In the next verse, Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn.” Jesus did not mean that believers have to walk around sobbing in tears. We are not supposed to feel sorry for ourselves all day long. But we are meant to mourn our sin and the terrible consequences of the curse.

The closer we get to Jesus and the more we learn about Him, the more we understand His goodness, and the more it shines a light on the stain of sin in our own hearts. It is a great gift to see our own stains. It gives us a chance to grieve over them and take them to God. He will wash us clean! He will comfort us in our mourning and give us new life! And so we will spend our lives being purified by the Holy Spirit.

There is another kind of mourning that is beautiful in the heart of the redeemed. When we mourn the sins of the world, we stand with God. It shows we are on His side of the great battle. It is as though we are looking at what is going on around us from his eyes. If we take an honest look at many of the things happening on this planet and the suffering that goes on, this world is truly awful, and Satan is a terrible, evil ruler. When we grieve over injustice, hatred, malice, and murder, we agree with God’s desire for righteousness. When we are sorrowful over the suffering of the innocent and the hunger of the poor, our hearts are like the heart of Jesus.   As we live in a fallen world full of the horrific curse, the realistic, honest response is to mourn.

The promise that Jesus gives us is that when we mourn the terrible state of this world, we will find comfort. We get to be part of setting captives free from the power of the Enemy and the terrible curse! We can be a part of Jesus’ work in bringing the Spirit of God to men in bondage to sin. As we pray and serve, we can watch the Lord bring new life and liberty.   And some day, when God’s Kingdom comes, there will be no more pain or suffering or tears. Mourning will be over forever.

Posted in Bible Learning, Bible Lesson, Biblical Narratives, Christianity, corruption, disciples, Faith, forgiveness, freedom, Gospels, humility, Israel, Jesus, Kingdom of God, Kingdom of Heaven, Lord, Messiah, Metanarrative, narrative, New Testament, obedience, radical, Spiritual formation, spirituality | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Story 49: The Sermon on the Mount: Naming the Blessed

Matthew 5:13-11

Sea of Galilee.

This is a picture of the “Mount of Beautitudes,” the place where Christian tradition says Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount. We can’t be sure that this is the exact spot, but it might very well have been, or at least some place like it. Imagine sitting and listening to Jesus with the breeze coming off the water and the sunlight glinting off the waves. What we know for sure is that the hills of this picture are the same that Jesus walked along with His disciples.

 The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most beautiful ethical writings in the history of humanity.  Just before giving us the Sermon Matthew explained that crowds of people were traveling from all over the nation of Israel and the surrounding Gentile countries to get near Jesus.  There was a massive outpouring of healing of all kinds of diseases, severe pain, demonic oppression, and physical deformities.  The heart of God for the suffering of humanity was shining through the obedient actions of His Son.  Jesus had also chosen the twelve disciples.

One day during this time of outpouring power and wild popularity, Jesus saw the crowds and made His way to the top of a mountainside.  His disciples gathered around Him to listen.  What is interesting is that Matthew says that the words of Christ that followed were specifically to teach them. The crowds were allowed to listen, but this sermon was given to teach those who were devoted to Him about  how they were to live for the Kingdom of God.  They would carry on the message of the Kingdom to the world after He took His seat on his throne.

Serving the Most High God in a world riddled with sin and evil is not easy. There are all kinds of problems and challenges that can get in the way of doing it well. Some day, those who have faith in Christ will be taken to Heaven, where we will never be tempted by sin again. We will be made whole and free to obey God perfectly. As we wait for that wonderful day, the Lord Jesus wants His followers to strive to be made perfect in God’s power. In the heart of this Sermon, He says, “‘Be perfect…as your heavenly Father is perfect.’” As we read more, we will learn what that perfection means to Christ.

In the beginning of the Sermon, Jesus teaches about the kind of people who will be allowed to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. It is a very different list than the kinds of things we usually tend to value. He says nothing about the proud and accomplished rulers of earth or the rich or the fabulously talented. Does God bless the ones who get all the hard work done? Will the blessed be the good looking people whose beauty seems to shine wherever they go or the innovative and creative?  These are the things we value, aren’t they? If you made a list of the people in the world today that are famous and widely respected, they are mostly made up of people who are some combination of these things. And many of these things can be very good. But in this fallen, cursed world, everything gets distorted, even our ideas of who we are meant to be and what is valuable. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus gave a beautiful picture of what it means to have a heart that is being perfected by God.

Imagine the power of the message as Jesus poured out pure, whole, enlivened truth to a sinful, dark, confused, and suffering world. This is what 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.

Blesses 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 the sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted

because of righteousness

for there is the kingdom of heaven.’”

Matthew 5:3-10

 Aren’t those beautiful words? Read them again! What do you think Jesus meant by “blessed”? In the Bible, believers are blessed by God.  What I think is totally amazing is that believers can also bless God. When God blesses us, it means He is approving of us. He is pleased…delighted, enjoying who we are in our relationship with Him. It moves Him on our behalf.  And when we bless God, it means we are praising Him because we see Him for all the wonder that He is.  There is no act that a person can do that is greater than giving praise to the most worthy God. And that matters to Him.  A lot.  It is also critical for the human soul to do it…it is what we were made for, and when we don’t, something is missing within us.  There is no gift that we can receive that is of higher honor than to receive God’s blessing.  The interaction between God and His children in mutual blessing is the central goodness and joy of where the human race were created to live.

Our whole hearts should strive to be the kind of person He longs to bless.  This is our expression of love to Him.

If we consider the things the people who are blessed will receive, it is pretty stunning…comfort, mercy, to be filled with righteousness, to become inheritors of the earth, to receive the Kingdom of Heaven, to be given the ability to see God…wow.

So what does it mean to be poor in spirit? What does it mean to mourn, to be meek, and to hunger and thirst for righteousness? How does Jesus want us to show mercy, to become pure in heart, and to be peacemakers? And what does it mean to receive the remarkable gifts that each of these qualities bring?

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