LET THE SEEKERS REJOICE

LET THE SEEKERS REJOICE

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Psalm 14:2; Matthew 5:5-9 NET

We have been investigating the words of Jesus’ most famous sermon. We have found that one of the clues to its meaning is the setting in which the sermon was given. Christ was in a prominent place and surrounded by the twelve men who he had just designated as his missionaries. A large crowd surrounded them. They were listening to Jesus, but they were watching these twelve men because the twelve were serving as the visual aid. The twelve were examples of people who had surrendered their livelihoods when they committed to follow Christ. They were the poor, the mourners, the hungry. When Jesus pronounced his blessings, they were directed to these twelve men.

The larger crowd watched and pondered. They considered their options. The twelve men had already made their choice. But these people were being invited to make the same choice. The king stood before them. His ambassadors were all around him. They were proclaiming a coming kingdom. Each one looking on had an opportunity to swear allegiance to the king.

Before we go to today’s text from the sermon, I want to look at one verse in the Old Testament.

Psalm 14:2 NET

2 The LORD looks down from heaven at the human race, to see if there is anyone who is wise and seeks God.

God is looking down, inspecting the people on the planet he created. Alexander writes “The earnestness of the inspection is suggested by the verb in the first clause, which originally means to lean or bend over, and is peculiarly appropriate to the act of one gazing intently down upon a lower object” (68). You can see in your mind’s eye the LORD bending down from his throne and gazing intently into this tiny planet. He is looking for wise men and women. How will he know a wise man or woman?

Wise men and women seek God!

The characteristic of wisdom being portrayed here is a hunger and thirst for righteousness — a desire to know God — to have a relationship with him — to be changed by him! There is good news for people like that.

While we seek him, he is looking for us.

The bad news of Psalm 14 is that wise people are rare. The world seems full of fools who don’t even acknowledge that there is a God. But the good news is that there is, and he is looking for us. He wants people to join the kingdom of his Son. He is actively seeking us.

“I sought the Lord, and afterward, I knew

He moved my soul to seek Him, seeking me;

It was not I that found, O Savior, true:

no, I was found of Thee.” *

What we have in today’s section of the sermon on the mount is a description of those rare wise people who are seeking the Lord and his promises for them.

Matthew 5:5-9 NET

5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God.

The seekers seek redemption (7)

The Lord has chosen to bless the merciful because they will be shown mercy. Clark says “as they constantly need mercy so long as they are in this imperfect state, so shall they constantly receive it from the hand of God” (68). I think we sometimes read the sermon on the mount as if Jesus is saying that Christians are such good people that he has decided to bless them with eternal life. That makes a lot of us feel guilty because we know that we do not measure up to the beatitudes. If they are the qualifications for kingdom citizenship, it is going to be a very small kingdom. So, please do not forget, that only lawbreakers need mercy. In this life, we are learning to be merciful to others, because God has promised us mercy on the day of judgment. When we stand before Jesus, he is not going to look on his clipboard and say ‘I see that you have shown mercy to others, so you get a pass.’

No, it is the promise that comes first, then the character changes to match the promise.

Mounce says “Jesus’ sermon is not a new set of laws but a description of how people who have chosen to place themselves under the reign of God are to live out their lives. The ethical requirements of the sermon are intended not to drive people to despair so they will then cast themselves upon the mercy of God, but to guide and direct those who desire to please him” (37).

The seekers seek an inner change (6)

They are hungering and thirsting to change from unrighteous to righteous. Boddington says “If we want to know whether the blessedness of Christ’s religion is really ours, the first question to ask is, Can I truly say that I hunger and thirst after righteousness? We know how much a person is willing to give for something to eat or drink, when ready to die from hunger or thirst. Great pains people will take to provide for the wants of the body, that is very certain; therefore, if we really have that desire for holiness which might be compared to the strong cravings of hunger and thirst, we shall not care what we suffer, if, by any means, we may but be made holy. We shall be willing to bear any trials that God may be pleased to put upon us, and we shall patiently endure, though men may revile us, and persecute us, and say all manner of evil of us falsely. And if we are thus in earnest about religion, we shall be sure to find, by sweet experience, that God has indeed spoken the truth concerning those who are blessed. We shall rejoice and be exceeding glad even in this world; and in the world to come, we shall most certainly know, to our endless joy, that God can effectually reward the merciful, the meek, the pure in heart, the peace-makers, all, in fact, who are His true and faithful servants (30).

An inner change will not happen unless we desire it, and are willing to risk everything else for it.

The seekers seek a relationship with God (8-9)

Seekers want to see God and become his children. Their zeal for a relationship with God turns their lives around so that their hearts become purer. It also influences their relationship with others, because they want to reconcile with their enemies so they can lead them into a relationship with God.

The seekers seek an inheritance (5)

I know that religion teaches that our inheritance is heaven, but it is not. The kingdom is going to come down out of heaven to this earth. As Chamblin says, “Once the kingdom comes, his people will inherit the earth” (324).

Remember that in the book of Revelation John saw the capital city of that coming kingdom “descending out of heaven from God” (Revelation 21:10).

Jesus promises those who conquer in this life that he will write on us the name of his God and the name of that city of God “the new Jerusalem that comes down out of heaven from my God” (Revelation 3:12).

Religion teaches that we are waiting to go somewhere, but the New Testament teaches that we are waiting for our king to come here:

Matthew 24:3 The disciples asked Jesus what would be the sign of his coming.

Matthew 24:30 He told them that all the tribes of the earth will mourn when they see ” the Son of Man arriving on the clouds.”

Matthew 24:44 He says we “must be ready because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

In Matthew 25, Jesus explains the importance of his coming through three parables:

The Ten virgins, in which five of the virgins were not prepared for the bridegroom’s coming.

The talents, in which one lazy slave was condemned because he failed to prepare for his master’s coming.

The parable of the sheep and the goats describes what will happen to those who are only pretending to be Christians when our Lord returns.

Mark 13:35-36 Jesus warns us “Stay alert, then, because you do not know when the owner of the house will return — whether during evening, at midnight, when the rooster crows, or at dawn — or else he might find you asleep when he returns suddenly.”

1 Corinthians 4:5 “Wait until the Lord comes.”

1 Corinthians 11:26 “every time you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.”

2 Thessalonians 1:10 talks about “when he comes to be glorified among his saints and admired on that day among all who have believed.”

2 Peter 3:10 says “the day of the Lord will come like a thief; when it comes, the heavens will disappear with a horrific noise, and the celestial bodies will melt away in a blaze, and the earth and every deed done on it will be laid bare.” He is coming to the earth to judge the earth.

1 John 2:28 says that we should “remain in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink away from him in shame when he comes back.” The promise is not that we will go to him when we die. The promise is that he is coming back to us.

We are not seeking a residence in another place, we are seeking an inheritance in this place. Jesus’ promise to us is that we will get that inheritance.

So, the major message for today is that it very much matters what we are seeking. Not everyone will be blessed with the satisfaction of their hunger and thirst. Not everyone will inherit the earth. Not everyone will be shown mercy. Not everyone will be called the children of God. Not everyone will see God and live to tell about it. There will be a judgment, and Jesus will be the judge.

Jesus’ message to those of us who are seeking his kingdom and righteousness today is that we will find it. We will see God and live. We will inherit the earth. That is why we can rejoice and be glad. Our reward is great in heaven, and it is coming down from heaven so that we can experience it here on earth.

But there were those in the crowd that day who heard these words from Jesus, looked at those twelve measly disciples, and said “no thanks. If I have to be poor today, to get into God’s coming kingdom, no thanks. If I have to go hungry and thirst now to be satisfied later, no thanks. If I have to show mercy instead of seeking revenge, no thanks. If I have to be pure in the heart instead of feeling the way I want to feel, no thanks. If I have to make peace with others instead of keeping my grudge against them, no thanks.”

Those people walked away from their one chance at eternal life. They chose the temporary things of this life instead of the permanent gifts Jesus had to offer. Jesus let them go. He honored their choice. If they wanted to choose permanent destruction instead of the permanent resurrection life he offered — it was their choice.

Now, you and I are in the crowd. We have the same choice to make.

_________________

* “I Sought the Lord” Author unknown, 1878 (rev. 1904).

Alexander, Joseph A. The Psalms: Translated and Explained. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan Publishing House, 1864.

Boddington, George. A Practical Commentary on the Gospel of St. Matthew, in Simple and Familiar Language. 1861.

Chamblin, J K. Matthew: A Mentor Commentary. Fearn, Tain: Christian Focus Pub, 2010.

Clark, George W. Notes on the Gospel of Matthew; Explanatory and Practical. New York: Sheldon and Co, 1870.

Mounce, Robert H. Matthew. Peabody, Mass: Hendrickson Publishers, 1991

LET THE SEEKERS REJOICE.mp3

LET THE HUNGRY REJOICE

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LET THE HUNGRY REJOICE

Matthew 5:6; Luke 6:21a, 23a, 25a NET

We have been looking at The message that Jesus gave as recorded in Matthew 5 and Luke 6. He is teaching his twelve appointed apostles, with a large crowd looking on. We have seen that the blessing that Jesus pronounces (the beatitudes) are descriptions of his followers. The woes that he pronounces are warnings to those who have decided not to follow him. The main point of all the teachings in this first section of the sermon is that the followers should rejoice because all their current sufferings will be repaid with glory and joy later.

In today’s texts, we are dealing with what looks like a contradiction — a difference between what Jesus says in Matthew 5 and what he says in Luke 6.

In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus appears to be talking about spiritual hunger

Matthew 5:6 NET

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.”

Allen says that Jesus is talking about “those who spend their lives in endeavours to fulfill the requirements of the law and to obtain the ‘righteousness’ which God demands” (Allen, 41).

Bland says that these two words are “often used metaphorically to signify an ardent pursuit of any thing; to be as sensible of the want of it, as fervently desirous to have it, and industrious to obtain it, as restless and incessant till we do enjoy it, as men usually are when they are pinched with hunger and thirst” (Bland, 110).

This makes sense if we remember the context in which we are given this sermon by Jesus. He is preaching directly to his apostles who have committed their lives to learn from him. They want God’s righteousness, and they see in Jesus not only an example of that righteousness but also a means of transmitting it. They have committed to following him wherever he goes and doing whatever he says. They are not doing this blindly. They expect to be changed.

These apostles are ardently pursuing the righteousness that Jesus has to offer. They want to be righteous. They fervently desire to have what Jesus can give them. They are industrious to obtain it. They are restless and incessant to enjoy it. They are pinched with hunger and thirst for it.

So, Jesus’ words to them, assuring them that they will be satisfied seem to assure them that their pursuit will not be in vain — that they will find the righteousness that has so far alluded them.

But in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus appears to be talking about the apostles being deprived of actual food.

Luke 6:

21a “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.

25a “Woe to you who are well satisfied with food now, for you will be hungry.

Godet says that the word hunger denotes “those whom poverty condemns to a life of toil and privation” (Godet, 312).

Indermark says “In Matthew, the blessings are for the “poor in spirit” and those who “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (5:3, 6). In Luke, it is simply the poor and the hungry who are blessed (6:20-21). Luke’s beatitudes reflect Jesus’ marked association in this Gospel with the marginalized in life” (Indermark, 35).

So, is Jesus blessing the spiritually hungry here or just the hungry?

People take different approaches to reconciling these texts

Some say that these are two separate sermons. The sermon on the Mount in Matthew is where Jesus blesses those who are hungry for righteousness, but in the sermon on the plain Jesus is just drawing attention to the apostles being poor and hungry in comparison to the religious elite.

That might be, but I think Jesus is blessing his apostles here for more than the fact that they are not as well-fed as others. Maybe he is using their low status as a metaphor for something. His promise that they will be satisfied is more than a promise that their stomachs will be full. His warning to the well-satisfied is more than a threat to take away their food.

Perhaps Moses can help us to see what is being taught by Jesus here.

Deuteronomy 8:1-3 NET

1 You must keep carefully all these commandments I am giving you today so that you may live, increase in number, and go in and occupy the land that the LORD promised to your ancestors. 2 Remember the whole way by which he has brought you these forty years through the desert so that he might, by humbling you, test you to see if you have it within you to keep his commandments or not. 3 So he humbled you by making you hungry and then feeding you with unfamiliar manna. He did this to teach you that humankind cannot live by bread alone, but also by everything that comes from the LORD’s mouth.

Moses reflects on what God did for his people. He put them in a situation where they lacked the normal means of taking care of their basic needs. They had been slaves in Egypt, but at least they knew how to provide for their families there. But in the open country, away from where they had come from, and not yet in the promised land (with its bounty — a land flowing with milk and honey) — they were in drastic need.

Moses said that God humbled them by making them hungry and then provided the unfamiliar manna for them to eat. The LORD put them in a situation where they had to acknowledge their total dependence upon him.

Now, compare this situation with that of the apostles in the Gospels. Like the Israelites in Egypt, the apostles were put in a situation where they needed to trust God for their deliverance. They committed themselves to follow the Lord. That commitment required that they relinquish their means of providing the necessities for themselves. The four fishermen had to abandon their boat. Matthew had to leave his booth.

Their commitment to Jesus made them poor. They risked hunger and thirst because they hungered and thirsted for righteousness. They had a destination that they were seeking that required this sacrifice. It was called the kingdom of God, or the kingdom of heaven. It was their goal, and Jesus was the way to reach that goal.

Along the way, Jesus provided for their needs — often miraculously. He gave them bread that they did not bake, and fish that they did not catch. He gave them the unfamiliar manna.

Now, Moses said that God humbled the Israelites by making them hungry, and then provided the unfamiliar manna for them to eat. The LORD put the Israelites in a situation where they had to acknowledge their total dependence upon him. That is what Jesus did for his apostles as well.

But Moses said something else about this as well. He said that God did this to teach the Israelites that humankind cannot live by bread alone, but also by everything that comes from the LORD’s mouth.

Here is where the message of Matthew 5 and the message of Luke 6 connect. If we are truly interested in God’s righteousness — if we truly hunger and thirst for it — we may go through times in our lives when we would rather go hungry than miss a meal at God’s table.

Jesus demonstrated this attitude himself. The Holy Spirit had led him to the wilderness where he was hungry and thirsty. The devil came, looking for an opportunity to tempt him.

Matthew 4:2-4 NET

“After he fasted forty days and forty nights he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’’”

If Jesus was simply interested in not going hungry, he could have stayed out of the wilderness. But he was hungering and thirsting for a relationship with his heavenly Father. He wanted to hear God’s words more than he wanted breakfast or lunch.

In the same way, if Matthew wanted to stay well-fed, he would have never left his tax collector’s booth. In Peter and Andrew, James and John wanted to avoid hunger, they could have stayed working on the boat. But they submitted to the Spirit, who humbled them by making them hungry and then fed them with the unfamiliar manna.

The apostle Paul made a list one time of all the difficult things he faced because of his commitment to follow and preach Christ. Hunger was on that list (2 Corinthians 6:5).

In the book of Revelation, John is told to write to the church in Pergamum “The one who has an ear had better hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers, I will give him some of the hidden manna” (Revelation 2:17).

This church was facing false teachings. Jesus told them to repent. He commanded them to conquer that false truth with God’s true truth. They were hungry but didn’t know it. They were being fed the wrong thing. Jesus commanded them to reject the wrong food, and hunger and thirst after his righteousness instead.

Jesus’ words to his apostles and all of us following him in the wilderness today are:

23a Rejoice in that day and jump for joy…

If your stomach is grumbling a little today (either physically or spiritually) because you want God’s righteousness, Jesus’ command for you today is REJOICE.

Why? The banquet is coming. The steak is on the grill. The pizza delivery person is on the way. Our Lord assures us that we will be satisfied. He is on his way, and his reward is with him to give to all who long for His appearance.

________

Allen, Willoughby Charles. A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to St. Matthew. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1907.

Bland, Miles. Annotations on the Gospel of St. Matthew. 1828.

Indermark, John. Luke. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011.

LET THE HUNGRY REJOICE.mp3

LET THE MOURNERS REJOICE

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LET THE MOURNERS REJOICE

Matthew 5:4; Luke 6:21b; 23a; 25b.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

“Rejoice in that day, and jump for joy”

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.”

Last week we began this series on the sermon on the mount and the sermon on the plain by establishing the context — the historical background. We saw Jesus speaking to his newly appointed missionaries and a large crowd looking on. What Jesus is saying he is primarily saying to these twelve men. The blessings he pronounces on them. The command to rejoice is given to them.

Indirectly, Jesus is calling on the crowds to follow the example of these twelve men and to commit their lives to follow him as they have. But we have to keep in mind as we read this sermon that it is directed toward those who have already made their decision for Christ.

The first thing Jesus does is look at these twelve men and give an honest characterization of them. They are not naturally endowed with greatness, but they are poor. They are not naturally powerful, but they are mourners, they are meek. They are not even known for their righteousness, even though they hunger and thirst for it.

But Jesus sees in these twelve men qualities that they probably don’t even see in themselves. He says they are merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers. It is these inner spiritual qualities that are not always evident at first glance that God values the most. Jesus blesses these men with a prophecy that they will not remain poor, but will inherit God’s coming kingdom. They will not mourn forever, but they will be comforted. They will not be subservient forever, they will one day rule. They will not always hunger and thirst for righteousness, but they will be satisfied with it. Their merciful nature is going to be rewarded with mercy. Their inner purity will be their ticket into God’s presence. Their peacemaking will make them children of God.

Today I want to zero in on one of these beatitudes. I want to talk about the fact that Jesus characterized these twelve men as mourners. Why did he call them that? Were these men cursed with an inordinate amount of death, sorrow, and despair?

When Jesus preached these words, the apostles were experiencing a time of great joy and accomplishment. They were not on the bottom, they were on top. They were following Jesus, and he was demonstrating God’s miraculous power daily. They were witnessing his power over the crowds as they thronged from all over the land to hear his words. They were his entourage and must have been respected and admired because of him.

Jesus was condemning the hypocrisy of the religious professionals of his day, humiliating them with the wisdom of his words. The apostles stood with Jesus on the winning side of those arguments.

Jesus encountered nature and proved his power over it. He turned some water into wine, and on some water, he just walked. He calmed raging storms. He cursed a fig tree and it died. He blessed five loaves of bread and two fishes, and the resulting miracle fed thousands, with baskets of scraps left over.

Jesus encountered the spirit world and delivered people from demonic possession. The demons feared him, not only for his power over them but also because they knew that he held their destiny in his hands. They knew that he was the one who would destroy the devil and all his works. The apostles were assistants to this master. So, why characterize them as mourners?

Part of the answer to that question has to do with the Bible’s wisdom literature.

Jesus shows wisdom by encouraging those who mourn, rather than those who laugh.

In Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 we read: “It is better to go to a funeral than a feast. Death is the destiny of every person,

and the living should take this to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter because sober reflection is good for the heart. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of merrymaking.”

Our lives as human beings are more about mourning than they are about laughing. We are more affected by the blues than we are by joyful songs. Eventually, most of us learn this. We learn it by watching our friends and family members die. We learn it by our memories of old times that we cherish because they are memories.

That is why Jesus could look at his young, healthy apostles and characterize them as mourners. He knew more about their lives than they did. He knew what was in store for them. Remember what he told Peter? He said “when you were young, you tied your clothes around you and went wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and others will tie you up and bring you where you do not want to go” (John 21:18). Jesus could see a life of persecution and a martyr’s death ahead of that young man. He saw the martyr’s death for the others as well. All of the apostles Jesus looked at when he preached the sermon that day would die a martyr’s death except Judas, who would kill himself. He died a traitor’s death. John was the only one who would die of old age. But even he would suffer persecution and banishment for his faith.

But then Jesus tells the mourners to rejoice.

Remember that is the main verb in this passage. It sounds out of place, and it is. It would be out of place for Jesus to tell Mary and Martha to rejoice at the death of their brother. But he comes close to doing just that. He tells Martha “Your brother will come back to life again.” Martha said “Yeah, I know, I went to Sunday School. I know about the coming resurrection.” Jesus said, “allow me to demonstrate.” He raised Lazarus from the dead because he wanted us all to know that our mourning is temporary. He has set a day on which all who are in their graves will come out, and believers will come out of their graves never to die again.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

“Rejoice in that day, and jump for joy”

He does not tell them that their sorrows will go away in this life.

Oh, people, please do not tell anyone that if they come to Christ, their problems will be over. That is not the gospel message. Jesus himself is our example, and he was ” despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:3).

On the cross, our Lord could quote Psalm 22:6-8 because he was “a reproach of men, and despised of the people. All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head saying, He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.”

Isaiah would call him one who is “despised and rejected by nations” (49:7). John said that “He came to what was his own, but his own people did not receive him” (1:11). Luke records that “Jesus took the twelve aside and said to them, ‘Look, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished ” (18:31). Jesus endured the suffering he did as part of his sacrifice for sin. But he also endured it because he was setting a pattern for those of us who would follow him. Suffering first, then glory.

He encourages his apostles to keep a second-coming perspective.

“Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.”

“Rejoice in that day, and jump for joy”

Whatever they experience in this life is not the point. The point is what is going to happen after that. Remember, I am not talking about death here. The day of our deaths is not the day of our deliverance. The day of our deliverance is the day of Christ’s return. Jesus taught these apostles about his coming. He said “just like the days of Noah were, so the coming of the Son of Man will be. For in those days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark. And they knew nothing until the flood came and took them all away. It will be the same at the coming of the Son of Man” (Matthew 24:37-39).

When Noah’s flood came, a handful of people had a complete reversal. They had been despised by the rest of the world. They had been mourning the loss of the earth, but most of the world ignored them and ridiculed them. Then the rain came. Suddenly, a boat sounded like a good idea. But only eight were saved. Most of the world was lost — destroyed by the flood.

Jesus tells his apostles — his mourning few — that a day of vindication is coming. A day of wrath is coming but his mourners are going to be delivered from it.

Paul found some of these mourners in Thessalonica. He praised them because they had turned to God from idols and were now waiting for him to come back from heaven — “our deliverer from the coming wrath” (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

The author of Hebrews tells us “just a little longer and he who is coming will arrive and not delay” (10:37). We may have a lot of weeping and mourning to do before that day, but when that day comes, our weeping and mourning will be over. So, we should rejoice, because that’s how we are going to spend eternity.

But Jesus does not command everyone to rejoice.

“Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep.”

Hell will not be a place of rejoicing. Those who stand before the Judge without the benefit of his redeeming blood will weep because their fate is sealed. They will have lost the most important thing. They will also be gnashing their teeth in anger, knowing that their fate is sealed and the day of mercy is passed. Oh, friends, don’t be part of that number. Come to Christ today, because today may be that day.

If you do choose to come to Christ today, I cannot promise that you will live a better life. You just might live a life of suffering and grief like those apostles did. But I can tell you that there will come a day when your suffering will end and your sorrow will cease. “Rejoice in that day, and jump for joy”

LET THE MOURNERS REJOICE.mp3

LET THE POOR REJOICE

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LET THE POOR REJOICE

Luke 6 20, 23a, 24 NET

20 Then he looked up at his disciples and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God belongs to you. 23a Rejoice … and jump for joy, because your reward is great in heaven. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your comfort already.

Before I started writing this week’s message, I prayed for God to teach me what Jesus said in this passage, and to help me to teach it with all his passion. The sermon we are going to be studying is one of the masterpieces of the spoken word. Jesus’ words as recorded in Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6 have been quoted for two millennia. They have also been misquoted and misrepresented for two millennia.

So, as I begin to analyze and expound on the text, I’m going to try to not only say what Jesus was saying but also explain what he was not saying. To start with…

This sermon is not directly designed to teach unbelievers how to become Christians (20a).

The sermon starts with blessings — we see an example in verse 20. If we are not careful, we can read those beatitudes as if they are a new law code and Jesus is the new lawgiver. I’ve heard preachers who say that the beatitudes explain what the Christians’ attitudes should be. It is as if Jesus is an evangelist telling us what kind of people we should be to live in his kingdom.

If Jesus is doing that in this sermon, then he’s only doing it indirectly. He had hiked up a mountain — not for the scenery, but to have some alone time with his Father. He stayed on the summit all night long praying. A group of his followers had joined him up there because at dawn he gathered this group around him and hand-picked twelve of them as his missionaries.

The thirteen of them descended and stood on a large area of open, level ground. A huge crowd found them there. They came for healing, for deliverance from demons, and to hear Jesus preach. We don’t know how large the crowd is, but we do know it consisted of people from several regions.

Jesus is preaching to the twelve here. They are his primary audience. That is why his sermon here is not patterned after his previous messages, which called on the crowds to repent and believe the gospel. He does not have to go over that ground again. That is why I am saying that the sermon is not directly designed to teach unbelievers how to become Christians. That is not what Jesus is doing here.

This is where I think a lot of people misunderstand the message of the sermon. Jesus starts with this list of blessings and we treat the blessings as if they are hurdles we have to jump to become Christians. Nope.

Look at Jesus. He’s looking at his twelve missionaries. They are the primary target of his sermon. He uses the second person here. He says “Blessed are you who are poor.” Who is the “you” that he is talking to? He’s talking to this small group of men who are already committed and commissioned as his missionaries. We see that clearly in verse 20. It says ” he looked up at his disciples and said…” He’s describing them.

He’s also speaking to the crowd. He is suggesting to the crowd that if they want to be blessed, they should follow the example of these missionaries. That is the context in which the sermon is given.

The main command of this text is to rejoice! (23a)

When I was taught how to analyze the Greek text of the New Testament, I was told to look for the main verb. Everything hangs on the main verb. I think we often treat the beatitudes as if they are a bunch of separate main verbs, but they are not. They are adjectives. They describe the missionaries.

The main verb does not show up until verse 23 when Jesus tells these missionaries to rejoice. That is the Greek word χαίρω, which means “‘be in a state marked by good feeling about an event or circumstance’ (Danker).

So, let’s get this straight. The first thing Jesus wants his true disciples, his followers, and his missionaries to do is to rejoice about something. They are blessed. Others are cursed, but they are blessed. Others are doomed to a destiny of suffering and destruction, but they are blessed with a destiny of joy and eternal life.

Jesus adds the phrase “jump for joy” — I think — just in case we are tempted to try to reinterpret rejoicing into some superspiritual contemplation thing. Nope. He wants us to jump for joy.

Also, this sermon is not designed to get believers to renounce wealth (20b).

Jesus said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God belongs to you.” He was saying that to the men who had just pledged their lives to serve him no matter what. Some of them had been rich by their standards, but they gave up their means of getting richer to follow him.

There have been many in history who have thought that to be a true believer, they would have to give up on a better life. Many in the crowd that day were probably looking at these twelve examples of kingdom citizens and questioning whether they dared to become poor like they did, to follow Jesus.

But Jesus is not highlighting the poverty so much as the commitment that led to the poverty. From his standpoint as the Son of God, everyone on the planet is poor. But he is commending his missionaries because they have chosen to seek his kingdom instead of their desires.

In the Old Testament, we learn that God is not against wealth. It comes from him.

Psalm 113:7

7 He raises the poor from the dirt, and lifts up the needy from the garbage pile, 8 that he might seat him with princes, with the princes of his people.

You don’t have to empty your bank account and go and sleep on the street to be a true Christian. But you do have to surrender anything in your life that might compete with Christ as the center of your life.

If you are poor and love Jesus, God wants to raise you from the dirt, to lift you from the garbage pile. He has a reward for you. It is a great reward. You may be poor now, but you are going to be rich later.

Your great reward is in heaven. Please note that it does not say that heaven is your reward. Jesus says he is coming back and his reward is with him (Revelation 22:12). If you are waiting to die then you are waiting for the wrong thing. You have the wrong hope. The Christian hope is not death, it is the coming Christ.

What Jesus was telling his followers in the sermon is that no matter how poor they seem now, the reality is that they are really rich. They have a great reward stored up for them in heaven. Hebrews 9:15 calls it the permanent inheritance. Jesus would later in the sermon tell them “Do not accumulate for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But accumulate for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:19-20).

Now, there would be those who would like the best of both worlds. They would want to stay rich in earthly things, but also buy themselves an insurance policy by seeking a form of religion as well.

But this sermon is not designed to give rich people access to the kingdom (24).

The same Jesus who blessed his followers for their poverty also condemned the rich for their wealth. He said “woe to you who are rich, for you have received your comfort already.”

The Old Testament reflects this truth as well. In 1 Samuel 2:7 (part of Hannah’s prayer), we read …

7 The LORD impoverishes and makes wealthy; he humbles and he exalts.

The poor in Christ are going to be exalted. The rich without Christ are going to be humbled.

Christian singer Michael Card wrote a great book on the Gospel of Luke called “The Gospel of Amazement.” He points out how Luke emphasizes God’s love for the poor. Here are some quotes:

“Luke is known as the Gospel of the poor and marginalized because he shows more concern for women, who were the most marginalized group in the first century, and for those who existed on the bottom rung of Jewish society. Luke alone tells us of the shepherds who are the first recipients of the good news of the birth of Jesus. Shepherds were regarded as outcasts in first-century Judaism, barred even from testifying in a court of law. Only Luke tells of the impoverished baby who sleeps in a cattle trough. Only Luke tells us the story of the widow of Nain, as well as the widow who offers both of her remaining coins to the temple treasury” (Card, 20).

“A kingdom is coming where rich and poor will change places, where those who weep will laugh and where the laughing ones will burst into tears. That world … is coming. It is Luke’s favorite world to describe” (Card, 69).

“The pronouncement of blessings (birkot) was a very rabbinic thing to do. But Jesus pronounces a disturbing list of blessings no one has ever heard before. Who would have ever thought of blessing the poor? Their poverty was thought to be a curse from God” (Card, 90).

“The woes represent the negative side of the blessings. Although the poor will receive the kingdom, the rich have already gotten all they will ever get” (Card, 90).

Let me conclude today by clarifying something so that there is no mistake. Jesus is not saying that all you have to be is poor to be saved. Lots of poor people are going to reject Christ, and they are not promised eternal life. Repentance and faith in Christ are still prerequisites to being citizens of the coming kingdom.

But a commitment to Christ and his coming kingdom will mean that your priorities will change. You will be more interested in your future reward than your present bank account. So, many of us who name the name of Christ are going to find ourselves poorer than those who do not. Jesus’ command for those of us who find ourselves in that state today is simple: REJOICE.

Rejoice because we have something that cannot be taken away. It is a reward that is safely stored in heaven with our name on it. It will be delivered to us at the appropriate time by a very reliable shipper.

It is also important to state that Jesus gives a corresponding WOE as a warning to the rich. All those things that are more important to them right now are not eternal. When the Master returns, they will be found to be unfaithful and unworthy for eternity. If all they want is riches today, then they should enjoy those riches. They have received their comfort already. It’s a temporary comfort. Nobody writhing in hell’s agony will ever say “I’m so glad I had a bunch of nice things.” There will be weeping as they contemplate their permanent destruction. But they will all know that they had a choice in life.

If you are listening to this message today, and you have not committed your life to Jesus Christ, you have a choice as well. Don’t allow the temporary riches of this earth to keep you from investing in the next.

____________

Card, Michael. Luke: The Gospel of Amazement. Downers Grove, Ill: IVP Books, 2011.

Danker, Frederick W. Concise Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament. 2009.

LET THE POOR REJOICE.mp3

HOW THE CHURCH WORKS

HOW THE CHURCH WORKS

Ephesians 4:11-16 NET

The Bible has a lot to tell us about the church. It tells us who the church is. It is a question of identity. We have two examples of that in today’s text. In verse 12 the church is called “the saints.” Notice that the term includes every Christian. It is not a word that is supposed to describe people who have attained some supernatural status or level of reverence. It is a term for all of us because we all need to be equipped for the work of ministry.

We see that reality also in the second term in today’s text that describes what the church is. According to verse 12 again, we are “the body of Christ.” A living body is designed to be always growing during its life. As members of Christ’s body on earth, we all need to be built up.

In other places in the Bible, other terms are used to describe and define the church. We are (for example) the salt of the earth, a letter from Christ, fish and a fishnet, the Ark, unleavened bread, branches of the vine, the vineyard, the fig tree, the olive tree, God’s planting, God’s building, Pillars of the truth, virgins, the Bride of Christ, citizens of the kingdom, exiles, ambassadors, the people of God, the family of God, the new creation, and this list goes on.1

Another way the Bible teaches about the church is by defining and describing the work that we are called to do as the church.

I like to use the acronym WIFE to outline the work of the church.

W stands for WORSHIP.

The church is God’s gathered community, designed to radiate his glory through (among other things) worship. When his people honor his person and praise him for his works, they help the creation reboot. Somewhere along the line, this planet has lost its purpose. Worship is our way of revisiting that purpose.

When Jesus was clip-clopping into Jerusalem at his triumphal entry, some Pharisees (who did not have a clue what was going on) demanded that Jesus stop his disciples from worshipping him. Not only did Jesus refuse to stop them, he told the Pharisees that if they were silenced “the very stones would cry out.” Now that our Savior has come, his worship is imperative. We all do it poorly, compared to how we will do it, but we try anyway. It is as natural as breathing for us.

Worship is supposed to be “in spirit and truth,” which is simply a way of saying “authentically.”

Its opposite would be worshipping in the flesh without a true feeling of awe or gratitude. Perhaps you remember the last time you attended a service that just seemed to be going through the motions? That is not worship. Authentic worship is a reaction to God’s felt presence, and God’s manifested works. It is not an expression of our “worth-ship” but his. The worshipper does not get carried away with herself but is caught up in him. That is why the fruit of the Spirit – self-control – must manifest in worship as well. Much damage has been done by confusing a self-honoring frenzy with God-honoring worship.

Yet, there is something to the process of worship which at times may seem like a loss of control. Paul told the formerly pagan Ephesians not to get drunk on wine, but to be filled with the Spirit. They were to replace one kind of intoxication for another. Instead of wine causing them to abuse one another, they were to drink deeply of the Holy Spirit, which would influence them. It would result in “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with all your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

When the Holy Spirit is manifested in our gatherings, he causes us to do things that outsiders may not understand, and may attribute to the wrong cause. At Pentecost, Peter had to remind the crowd that those who were receiving manifestations were not drunk; it was (after all) only nine o’clock in the morning. From that time on, “praising God” was a description of what believers constantly do.

I stands for INSTRUCTION

A true church is a discipling church, and a discipling church is a teaching church. One of the earliest criticisms that unbelieving authorities hurled at the early church was that they were teaching in Christ’s name. The apostles arose at daybreak and started teaching.

My sermons here at Piney Grove have mostly focused on teaching the commands of Christ. Even if we use an Old Testament text, it is usually to help us focus on something Jesus taught about that topic. Next Sunday, we will begin a series on the Sermon on the Mount and its Luke version, the sermon on the plain.

Discipling consists of bringing people to the point of commitment to Christ (baptizing) and then nurturing that commitment through a lifelong process of teaching. The gathered church is a teaching church. The means of the church’s teaching ministry is not a creed or a set of church traditions. It is the Holy Spirit, who is continuing the discipling ministry of Jesus Christ among us. The medium He uses is the Bible, the word of God.

Believers with the Holy Spirit inside them, and the word of God coming out of them, are a strong force for change in the world. Jesus intends for his gathered church to not simply sit by and wait until his return. He has commanded us to “engage in business” until he comes. “Until I come, (he said) devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching.” The gathered church is a teaching church.

F stands for FELLOWSHIP

The church is God’s gathered community designed to radiate his glory by growing closer together and demonstrating our unity. This is done through fellowship. The act of gathering us together was intentional. God did not mean for us to be spiritual lone rangers. He does not have one church of doers and another church of viewers. He has one body, with many members. Fellowship is the way we show our unity among ourselves and to the watching world.

The gathered church is not a saved soul here, and a saved soul there. We are a collected crop. We are gathered sheaths, prepared to be harvested for our master on the last day. The gathered church is a fellowshipping church.

E stands for EVANGELISM

The church is God’s gathered community designed to radiate his glory by snatching people from among the doomed and bringing them to eternal life in Christ. We do this through dynamic witness. Jesus told us that we would be his witnesses “in Jerusalem and all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth”.

The church that truly evangelizes leads people from accepting Christ’s gift of forgiveness to embracing Christ’s authority and his coming kingdom. The church is God’s gathered community designed to radiate his glory by bringing others into his kingdom through dynamic witness.

Our passage today explains how the church works when it is working right.

The church works by equipping the saints for the work of ministry (11-12a).

11 It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12a to equip the saints for the work of ministry,

When a church is working right, members with the equipping gifts help all the saints become better at doing the work that they do.

The list that Paul uses here is not a list of professional church leaders. Even the word pastor as Paul used it here did not refer to someone hired to lead a church. All these terms referred to church members who had special Spiritual Gifts designed to equip everyone else in their ministry.

The apostle was a missionary — someone who could cross cultural or ethnic or geographical boundaries and reach people with the word of God.

The prophet was a person empowered with a message from God — usually a message that challenged people to turn to God in repentance.

The evangelist was also a person empowered with a message from God — usually a message of comfort or encouragement.

The pastor was a person who could shepherd the hungry and hurting and bring them to a place of strength, rest, and healing.

The teacher was a person who could feed the spiritually hungry by systematically setting out the truths of the word of God in a way that hearers can understand and apply to their lives.

When these equipping ministries are present and do their work, the result will be that the saints who hear them will be able to do what God calls them to do.

The church works by building up the body of Christ (12b-13).

12b that is, to build up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God — a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.

A body that is properly built up is going to manifest two characteristics. First, it is going to attain unity. When we are first born, we have all the things that we need to do what people do. But we are not born with natural unity. We have feet, but we cannot walk. We have eyes but we only focus on what is straight in front of us. We have ears but we cannot always tell where a sound is coming from. We have to learn over time how to use our bodies as one. We call it coordination.

The unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God that Paul talks about here is something like that coordination. The more we gather together as a body, the more opportunities we have to get coordinated with each other so that we think and speak with a unified voice about the things of God. But, just like that baby, we have to work at it. It does not come automatically. Baptism does not make us work together. Working together is the only way to learn this kind of unity.

The second characteristic we need to attain is maturity “attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature. Nobody is born mature. It seems like some people never mature. But if we don’t gather together for the equipping ministries to help us, we are not going to get built up.

The church works by maturing the members of the body of Christ (14-15).

14 So we are no longer to be children, tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind of teaching by the trickery of people who craftily carry out their deceitful schemes. 15 But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head.

Paul uses two images of the church in these two verses. He says that immature believers are like a boat. They are tossed back and forth by waves and carried about by every wind. False teachers can make us like that. No teachers can also make us like that. If we fail to come together to learn the word of God, we will remain like children, and our boats will be flopping around everywhere, with no stability.

Another image Paul uses is the body. A body begins as a child, but it is expected to grow up. It is expected to mature. Maturity for the church is that each member grows “up into Christ, who is the head.”

The church works by all the members mutually supporting one another (16).

16 From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.

Don’t forget this last verse of today’s text because it tells us something very important about how the church works when it is working right.

Let me put it this way. People imagine the church is working right when it resembles a concert. All the fans gather in the auditorium. The band plays on the stage. The fans listen, they cheer. The playing is over. Everybody goes home. If that is the way you think church works, you are bound to be disappointed.

Let me read that verse again: “From him the whole body grows, fitted and held together through every supporting ligament. As each one does its part, the body grows in love.”

Every time we gather as a church, we do a lot of things (worship, instruction, fellowshipping, evangelism) but while we are doing that growth is happening. The growth comes from Jesus “from him the whole body grows.” But that growth does not come passively. In a concert, the band plays, and the fans listen — passively taking it in. But in a church service growth happens only “as each one does its part.” So church works by all the members mutually supporting one another. When that happens “the body grows in love.”

I want us to be a church that works. If we commit ourselves to be a working church, I think the LORD is going to surprise us. I think he wants to work with us to build up the body of Christ in this community.

1 For an example of this kind of study, see Paul Minear’s book, Images of the Church in the New Testament.

HOW THE CHURCH WORKS.mp3