Sermon series: Following Jesus
From the description in the gospels and the geography of Palestine, we know that Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount along the road that skirts the Sea of Galilee between Tiberius to Metula. The Church of the Loaves and Fish was built in the fourth century along this coastal road to commemorate the Galilean ministry of Christ. About two miles from the seaside town of Tabgha is a 330-foot hill called the "Hill of Beatitudes." Although "Sermon on the Mound" would be a more accurate description, Jesus delivered his longest recored discourse from this place. The title "Sermon on the Mount" has endured throughout Christian history. Perhaps the magnitude of the content, not the altitude, inspired its name.
In 111 verses, Jesus delivered what has been labeled the "Kingdom Manifesto." Beginning with the Beatitudes, Jesus introduced a new and radical philosophy of relating to the heavenly Father. Jesus preached about a loving God who loved "whosoever," not just religious professionals. Faith was no longer a legalistic code of restricted behavior, but a living covenant that promised blessing. The concepts declared in the Beatitudes still stand in sharp contrast to the dominating world philosophy.
Pope John Paul II spoke to a group of teens in March 2000 about the difference between Christianity and modern culture. "Modern culture says, 'Blessed are the proud.' Jesus said, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit.' Culture says, 'Blessed are the pitiless.' Jesus said, 'Blessed are the merciful.' Culture says, 'Blessed are the devious.' Jesus said, 'Blessed are the pure in heart.' Culture says, 'Blessed are those who fight.' Jesus said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers.' Culture says, 'Blessed are the prosecutors.' Jesus said, 'Blessed are the persecuted.'"
The Pope was right on target. Jesus' teaching still applies in the 21st century. The truth He proclaimed is not unique because it is ancient. It is special because it possesses divine authority and wisdom. Our need to embrace the radical teaching about this first-century carpenter's reconstructing of our hearts is greater than ever. While the terms may be familiar, the truth is still fantastic.
The term "Beatitude" is derived from the Latin word for blessing - beatus. Most scholarly definitions of this word include references to divine joy or happiness. Blessing is God's favor extended to an individual, resulting in positive emotion or reward.
I'm convinced that pastor and author Max Lucado developed the best definition of blessing in his book, The Applause of Heaven.
"Blessing is sacred delight. It is God doing what gods would be doing only in your wildest dreams. It is good news coming through the back door of your heart. It is what you have always dreamed but never expected. It's the too-good-to-be-true coming true. It is having God as your biggest fan, and your best friend. It is sacred because only God can grant it. It is delight because it thrills."
It is this "sacred delight" that Jesus promised in the Sermon on the Mount. To an unlikely cast of characters, Jesus makes incredible promises. But the eight characters mentioned are not individual people standing in line at the Blessing Bank waiting for the next teller. These eight blessed characters provide a mental picture of the process through which God leads every believer as we experience new life in Christ.
I. Recognize your state
The first step in the process is to recognize our state. Jesus referred to spiritual condition, not physical location, when he promised the "kingdom of heaven" to those who are "poor in spirit." Poverty resulting from the lack of resources is not a virtue any more than great wealth can secure entrance into God's Kingdom. Poverty in spirit is recognizing your insufficiency to earn God's blessing. The Bible clearly teaches that all have sinned and fall short of God's holy standard. We are sinful, yet special.
The Bible says that you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are special to God, but God does not love you because you are special. He loves us by divine choice and demonstrates His love by sending Christ to die for us, though we sinned against His holy love. You can not do anything to make God love you more or less.
No one possesses enough spiritual resources to purchase God's blessing for two reasons. First, the price is too high. Holiness, purity, righteousness, glory, honor, and power transcend financial compensation. Second, God's sacred delight is not for sale!
The Archbishop of Paris once told a story of three young men who visited the cathedral of Notre Dame.
On a dare, one of the men entered the confessional booth and made a false confession to the priest. The priest, aware that the young man was deceiving him, assigned him this penance: Stand in front of the crucifix in the church, look Jesus in the eyes, and say three times, "All this you did for me, and I don't give a d---."
The young man and his friends laughed as they entered the sanctuary. He looked into Jesus' eyes and said, "All this you did for me, and I don't give a d---." The third time, he couldn't say the words. He returned to the confessional booth and made a sincere confession to the priest. He went on to become a priest and eventually, became the Archbishop of Paris.
II. Repent of sin
The second character, he who mourns, illustrates the next step in the process of receiving sacred delight. Upon gaining a proper understanding of your sinful condition, you must repent of sin. Just as blessing and poverty of spirit seem odd together, sacred delight and mourning stretch this paradoxical teaching.
Mourning is grief expressed over the loss of something meaningful to you. Expression is critical to understanding mourning. It is not enough to know your sinful condition. You must demonstrate repentance.
A fourth-grade Sunday school teacher asked her class what repentance meant. One child said, "It means you're sorry for something you did." Another said more accurately, "It means you're sorry enough to quit." To mourn over sin is to express the appropriate sorrow that leads me to stop sinning. The promise to mourners is the comforting embrace of a loving God. Genuine grief expressed over our poverty of spirit ignites God's forgiveness, which brings cleansing to our heart and restores our relationship with the heavenly Father.
Jesus beautifully described God's comfort as mending our mourning spirit. In another passage, Jesus declared that He did not come to condemn the world but to bring life. God's desire is not to beat us down with guilt, but mourning over our sin allows us to experience His amazing grace.
III. Resemble the Savior
God is the one who reveals our sin and, as Romans 4:4 says, "His kindness leads us to repentance." Salvation, adoption into the heavenly family, regeneration, born again, and reconciliation all describe the initial work of God, but His work continues transforming new believers into mature Christ-followers. When Christ issued the call, "Follow me," he referred to a reconstructed life that was radically different from a life without Christ. The change is not an outward change, like the popular extreme makeover shows. God transforms your heart, soul, mind, and strength from the inside out.
The great preacher and Bible scholar, Martin Loyd-Jones said
"Happiness is the great question of the ages. The whole world is longing for it and tragically seeks to find happiness by futile means. Genuine happiness, a sacred delight that transcends circumstances, is what Jesus promised in the Beatitudes, and He revealed that this elusive delight flows from inward transformation to your soul. It is not a goal to achieve, but sacred delight is a gift to receive."
Let's consider the final six characters in groups of three.
A. Blessed are the meek, hungry, and merciful
These three don't strike you as a terrific trio, but the rewards promised to those who apply these concepts are certainly desirable. Submitting, trusting, and forgiving are not natural tendencies. We naturally pursue self promotion, thirst for personal pleasure, and harbor anger.
We should never confuse meekness with weakness. Jesus chose to identify his personality as meek (Matt. 11:29), and the disciples were terrified that even the wind and waves obeyed His command (Mark 4:41). Meekness is allowing almighty God to shape your life as the master designer. Many see submission as losing, but Jesus promised a great inheritance. This truth would be echoed by the apostle Paul, when he wrote that as God's ministers he and the other apostles commended themselves to the Corinthians, "having nothing, yet possessing everything" (2 Cor. 6:10).
Hunger and thirst communicate ongoing desire. The quest to know God is never completed this side of heaven. Paul wrote about seeing through a foggy glass and longing to experience fullness of glory and knowledge. Toward the end of His earthly journey, he said, "not that I have already obtained it, but I press on toward the goal to win the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Phil. 3:14). Jesus made a glorious promise to those who approach God with a hungry soul. They will not de disappointed, "for they shall be filled!"
The transformation into Christ-likeness continues as you extend forgiveness to those who have wronged you. Some identify the greatest attribute of Christ as love or holiness, but I'm convinced the most defining characteristic of Christ is forgiveness. Certainly the most poignant words uttered by Jesus on the cross were, "Father, forgive them." To be like Christ we must learn to forgive. To forgive we must first experience hurtful deeds and acts of ill will against us. When you have been mistreated, you have two options: get mad or give mercy. Because of Christ's forgiveness, you possess the capacity to forgive others.
Hatred, bitterness, unresolved conflict - they are like a rabid dog that turns against its master. To forgive does not mean to condone or ignore negative behavior, but it does mean releasing the burden to get revenge or to punish for selfish reasons. Forgiveness liberates you from pretending to be the "judge of the living and the dead." Christ already occupies that role.
Max Lucado shared the following letter in The Applause of Heaven.
I caught my husband having an affair with another woman. He swore it would never happen again. He begged me to forgive him, but I could not – would not. I was so bitter and so incapable of swallowing my pride that I could think of nothing but revenge. I was going to make him pay and pay dearly. I'd have my pound of flesh.
I filed for divorce, even though my children begged me not to. Even after the divorce, my husband tried for two years to win me back. I refused to have anything to do with him. He had struck first, now I was striking back. All I wanted was to make him pay.
Finally he gave up and married a lovely young widow with a couple of small children. He began rebuilding his life – without me.
I see them occasionally, and he looks so happy. They all do. And here I am – a lonely old, miserable woman who allowed her selfish pride and foolish stubbornness to ruin her life.
Unfaithfulness is wrong. Revenge is worse. But the worst part of all is that, without forgiveness, bitterness is all that is left.
The final three characters are ...
B. The pure, the peacemakers, and the persecuted
Each describe the ministry of Christ, and God promises a special blessedness for those who demonstrate Christ-likeness. To the Hebrew mind, the heart represented the core being. Solomon warned in Proverbs 4:29, "Above all else guard your heart." Jesus said in Matthew 15:18-19, "It's not what goes into the mouth that defiles but what comes out of your heart." Purity was used in reference to approaching the presence of God. Animals, utensils, and the priests had to be pure in order to be accepted into God's presence. Christ-followers are blessed because the blood of Christ has purified our hearts.
Jesus promised the pure would see God. Through purity we gain access to God. Purity allows you to see the unseen and hear the inaudible. God invites you to experience an intimacy with the heavenly Father. He allows pure souls into His holy presence. King David knew the beauty of God's presence and the tragedy of sin robbing his joy, so he prayed for God to create a "clean heart, renew his spirit" that he would not be cast away from God's presence (Ps. 51:10-11).
To the peacemakers, Jesus promised glorious recognition as "sons of God." Throughout Scripture, we see individuals described as someone's son. In our culture, your last name or Social Security number provides identification, but in ancient Eastern culture people were identified by sonship. To be recognized as God's Son is the highest honors a person can know. You may recall the Pharisees attempted to kill Jesus when he claimed to be God's son (John 8: 48-59). Jesus usually referred to himself as the Son of man, a title used by the prophet Daniel.
Peacemakers receive this special honor because they participate in the same mission as Christ by sharing the gospel with those who are lost. Peacemaking requires the pre-existing condition of conflict. Souls without Christ are at war with God. The Bible describes the unsaved as "enemies of God" (Rom. 5:10) and "children of wrath (Eph. 2:3). Jesus did not prescribe political diplomacy, but proclaimed our responsibility to point the way to the Prince of peace. The apostle Paul declared that the saints of God are ambassadors who possess the ministry of reconciliation. I love the description of the peacemakers as those "who builds bridges with wood from an old, rugged cross."
The final unlikely character who receives sacred delight is the persecuted follower of Christ. They receive a "great reward" in the kingdom. Again, note the significance of the terminology. Persecuted believers are rewarded in the Kingdom, not delivered from difficulty in this life. We often confuse blessing and reward. Divine rewards come later, while we experience blessings on earth.
In Revelation 2:8-12 and 3:7-13, Jesus addressed the churches in Smyrna and Philadelphia. These churches were the only two out of seven that He did not rebuke. He praised them for tremendous faith during severe persecution, but revealed that more suffering would come. Jesus' consolation to these incredible saints was, "They would not be hurt by the second death. Hold on and endure patiently." This promise to persecuted believers reminds us to live for eternity, to lay up treasure in heaven, and to look for joy in eternal truth not temporary things.
Ben Hooper was born to a single mother in the foothills of East Tennessee. This was during a time when single mothers and their children were ostracized and criticized. Other parents did not let their children play with the "bastard child." As he grew older the kids mocked Ben with questions like, "Did you ever find out who your daddy is?" During elementary school, Ben stayed at his desk to avoid the playground where the attacks could be brutal to a child's self-esteem. At lunch Ben ate by himself.
It was big news whenever anything changed in the foothills. One summer when Ben was 12, a new preacher came to town. Ben heard great things about the young pastor, that he made everybody feel loved by God. One Sunday, though he had never attended church in his life, Ben went to hear the preacher. He slipped in late, sat in the back, and left early.
Each week Ben was mysteriously drawn to hear more about the loving God who sent His only begotten Son to save the world. By the sixth week the message was so engaging that Ben forgot to leave early. When the service ended, others had clogged the aisle preventing Ben's quick escape. As he was making his way out, Ben felt a hand upon his shoulder. Turning around, he looked up and saw the smiling face of the new preacher who asked the question Ben feared most, "Hey young man, whose child are you?"
The noise stopped. Everyone turned to look at Ben. Ben's heart sank. His mind raced: "Not you too. I thought you were different. How can I get out of here?" Before Ben could say a word, the preacher smiled and said, "I know whose boy you are. I can see the family resemblance. You are a child of God!" The preacher patted Ben on the back and said, "That's quite an inheritance you've got. Now go and live up to it!"
That day changed Ben's life. At a small country church in Tennessee, he was elected into the family of God, and later reelected as the governor of Tennessee. He was not just a kid without a father. He was a child of the heavenly Father. Like Ben Hooper, when we learn who we are in Christ, it changes everything.