INFLUENCING THE WORLD

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INFLUENCING THE WORLD

We have been looking at our Lord’s sermon on the mount because it contains a number of our Lord’s commands to us. For the past few weeks, we have been examining the beatitudes which introduce this sermon. We found that the beatitudes are a description of the apostles as representatives of Christ’s present kingdom. His command — which applies throughout the whole section — is the same. He tells them to rejoice because they are blessed. Even if they sometimes seem to be cursed — with poverty, hunger, grief, mistreatment, etc.

That introductory section of Jesus’ sermon primarily focuses on who the kingdom’s citizens are. In today’s section, we will transition to looking at what kingdom citizens do.

McCumber says, “What disciples are is covered in the beatitudes” (34). “What disciples do is expressed under figures of salt and light” (35).

The only command we have seen so far is REJOICE. Believers are expected to rejoice because we have a destiny that will make all our present suffering and searching worthwhile. But our king wants us to do something more than just rejoice. Today’s section explains what it is that he wants us to be doing as we live our lives between his first and second advents.

Matthew 5:13-16 NET

13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if salt loses its flavor, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled on by people. 14 You are the light of the world. A city located on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 People do not light a lamp and put it under a basket but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.

Both salt and light influence whatever they touch

In the previous section, Jesus told his followers that they are blessed. In this section, he tells them that they are to bless. It makes sense. In the Old Testament, God approached Abraham and told him that he was blessed, and commanded him to be a blessing to all nations. Jesus is essentially doing the same thing here.

The question that Jesus is answering here is “In what ways are the blessed in his kingdom to bless the nations?” To answer that question, Jesus brings up two metaphors. He says that he expects his apostles (and all of us who follow them by putting our faith in Christ) to bless the nations like salt blesses food, and like light blesses the things that it shines on.

Salt was so valuable in the Roman empire that for a time Roman soldiers were paid with salt. Our English word salary comes from the Latin word for salt (sal). Even today we talk about something being “worth it’s salt.”

Luccock says, “In an age when people have become conscious of how too much salt is harmful to health, it may be difficult to appreciate the importance of salt in Jesus’ day. Salt preserved food and gave it flavor. In the same way, the followers of the Christ would preserve the world and give life its true taste. … When salt grows insipid … (it) become useless” (31).

Salt was a preservative. In the book of Genesis, God told Abraham that he would not destroy the city of Sodom if he found enough righteous people in it. He didn’t find enough righteous people in it, so he destroyed it. Salt also enhances the flavor of whatever it touches.

Light exposes what is there. If salt’s purpose is preservation, light’s purpose is revelation. Light is essential in a world of darkness. The apostles were Jesus’ visual aid to show the world how God wanted it to live.

Both of these metaphors describe the fact that people who are part of Christ’s present kingdom are going to be responsible to influence the world around them. We cannot run away from the world, because we are responsible to bless it. We are God’s means of expressing himself to the nations.

Salt and light are not designed to hide themselves

The problem that Jesus suggests is that there will be a temptation for kingdom citizens today to fail to do what he is calling them to do. We will be tempted to keep our salt to ourselves and not salt the earth. Ironside said, “The disciples of our Lord are left in the world to witness against its iniquity and to set an example of righteousness. Savorless salt, like an inconsistent Christian, is good for nothing” (37).

We will be tempted to hide our light under a basket so that it does not shine on our world.

Jesus’ command here is for us to let our light shine before people. But what exactly does it mean. Are we supposed to draw attention to ourselves by acts of religious devotion? Are we supposed to sacrifice all life’s comforts so that the world knows how committed we are? Are we supposed to shine our lights on all the evil things in the world and condemn them, becoming — in effect — the world’s police force?

No, Jesus explained how we are expected to shine our light before people. This is how we are to bless the nations:

Christians are intended to show their influence by good deeds.

We must let our light shine before people, so that they can see our good deeds and give honor to our Father in heaven. Now, this is not legalism. Legalism says that good deeds save you. Remember, Jesus is not telling unbelievers how to get saved here. He is giving believers their job description. Good deeds are not the means of salvation, they are the evidence of salvation.

Now, Jesus does not go into detail here about what kinds of good deeds we are to show. This passage is just a general statement for us all to understand what we are to be doing. The more specific details will come later in his sermon.

So, for example, Jesus tells us that our good deeds have to be better than the legalistic practices of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law (Matthew 5:17-20). We have to do better than just keep from murdering people, we have to stop being angry with them (5:21-26). We have to do better than just avoiding adultery and divorce, we have to stop lusting in our hearts (5:27-32). We have to do more than keep our vows, we have to be honest enough that we won’t need to vow (5:33-37). We have to love not only our friends but our enemies too (5:38-48).

The influence that Jesus expects us to bless the world with is for us to be unlike the world. That is hard. We are born into this world and from the very beginning of our lives, it has been trying to mold us into its image. Jesus challenges us to be different. But the difference matters. If we are not different, then we cannot salt the earth. If we don’t salt the earth it will be a tasteless thing that is only good for destruction. If we hide our light, the light will not expose what it is supposed to expose. What is it that the light is supposed to expose?

Our good deeds are intended to demonstrate our relationship with God

“Let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven.” Jesus is the light of the world, and those of us who have met Jesus have the opportunity to reflect that light. Albrecht says, Jesus “came to overcome the darkness of sin, wickedness, ignorance, and unbelief. Christians are the light of the world in the sense that they reflect the light of Christ, just as the moon reflects the light of the sun” (69).

The good deeds are the direct result of our new relationship with God, made possible by the sacrificial atonement Jesus accomplished for us on the cross. Because Jesus removed the sin barrier from us, making it possible for the Father to accept us into his family, we can now act differently. The good deeds that we achieve are not to save us, but they can be used to save others. Our good deeds can cause those who are looking for God to find him.

The ultimate goal of our influence is God’s glory

God is glorified when sinners turn from their sin and come back to God. Whenever the nations see us living the life of godliness, we influence them to come to Christ. That is how they will glorify God. That is the mission. As Meier puts it, “The disciples can cause the failure of their mission if they ignore others and live only for themselves” (45). Their mission is to bring people back to God.

Augsburger describes how being the light is our mission: “While light is to be seen, serving as a guide for travelers, it is basically to be of service. The disciples are lights in the world, not calling attention to themselves but pointing the way of God. They obtain their light from the One who is the Light of the world. This visibility and service is expressed by Jesus in two illustrations: the city on the mountain and the candle placed on the lampstand. The light dispels darkness simply by being present. As one has said, “It does little good to curse the darkness; one should light a candle.” And the motive is to illuminate the way of God for others, that by seeing our good works they may glorify God. For this light to be seen we live openly in the midst of the world as disciples of Christ, a visible witness of the rule of Christ or of the presence of the Kingdom of God” (68).

Senior says, “The disciple … is to live now the life that is to be realized fully at the end time, yet, through Jesus, is already breaking into the world” (73). Folks, the life we live now is important. Our witness is more than just telling people about Jesus. Our witness is demonstrating his existence and importance through how we live our lives.

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Albrecht, G J, and Michael J. Albrecht. Matthew. Milwaukee, Wis: Northwestern Pub. House, 1996

Augsburger, Myron S. Matthew. , 1982.

Ironside, H A. Matthew. Neptune, N.J: Loizeaux Brothers, 1994

Luccock, Robert E. Matthew. Nashville, Tenn: Abingdon Press, 1994.

McCumber, William E. Matthew. Kansas City, Mo: Beacon Hill Press of Kansas City, 1975.

Meier, John P. Matthew. Wilmington, Delaware: M. Glazier, 1980.

Senior, Donald. Abingdon New Testament Commentaries: Matthew. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2011.

INFLUENCING THE WORLD.mp3

LET THE MISTREATED REJOICE

LET THE MISTREATED REJOICE

Deuteronomy 30:1-7 NET

1 “When you have experienced all these things, both the blessings and the curses I have set before you, you will reflect upon them in all the nations where the LORD your God has banished you. 2 Then if you and your descendants turn to the LORD your God and obey him with your whole mind and being just as I am commanding you today, 3 the LORD your God will reverse your captivity and have pity on you. He will turn and gather you from all the peoples among whom he has scattered you. 4 Even if your exiles are in the most distant land, from there the LORD your God will gather you and bring you back. 5 Then he will bring you to the land your ancestors possessed and you also will possess it; he will do better for you and multiply you more than he did your ancestors. 6 The LORD your God will also cleanse your heart and the hearts of your descendants so that you may love him with all your mind and being and so that you may live. 7 Then the LORD your God will put all these curses on your enemies, on those who hate you and persecute you.

In this passage, Moses predicted unconditionally that the nation of Israel would rebel against the covenant and experience all its curses (1).

Payne describes what happened: “The path of disobedience could bring curses down on the nation, while loyalty and obedience would mean blessing in the years ahead. Of course, real history is not so black and white as this challenging picture might suggest, and verse 1 realistically envisages both “the blessing and the curse” as Israel’s experience- to-be as the generations come and go. As a whole, however, this section is discussing just one option: supposing the worst happens, and Israel is so disobedient that many of the disasters foreseen in chapter 28 actually happen—what then? Must that be the end of the story? Is cursing God’s last word? The historical books that follow Deuteronomy in the Old Testament, from Joshua to 2 Kings, in themselves paint just such a picture, for the story ends with Jerusalem in ruins, the Temple destroyed, the monarchy swept away, hundreds and thousands of casualties, and the cream of the survivors exiled to far-away Babylon” (164).

But Moses promises conditionally that the Israelites could return to the land and experience his blessings (2-5).

As Clements puts it: “All forms of blessing and curse have been set squarely under the umbrella of the known law of God, and all life’s experiences are to be understood in the light of this law” (45). The Israelites got into the mess they were in by idolatry and disobedience. They could return if they repented and submitted themselves to God’s rule.

Moses indicates that the return would be accompanied by a spiritual renewal (6)

He said that the LORD their God would cleanse their heart and the hearts of their descendants so that they may love him with all their minds and being and so that they may live. There was always hope of a return — even from the disaster of the exile.

The audience that Jesus spoke to when he preached his sermon on the mount knew that the nation as a whole needed this spiritual renewal.

Moses also indicates that the return would result in the curses being put on the nations that hated and persecuted them (7).

The audience that Jesus spoke to understood what it meant to be persecuted and mistreated. They longed for national restoration and wanted God to judge their captors.

Moses’ words in Deuteronomy 30 serve as a backdrop to the sermon on the mount.

Matthew 5:10-12 NET

10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way.

Jesus in his sermon is publically declaring himself the king, and offering the whole nation an opportunity to repent (10).

Hare says that the sermon on the mount “not only tells Christians how to live but emphasizes the importance of Jesus. He is not simply “one of the prophets” … but is the Messiah. He sits like a king on his throne, his disciples approach him like subjects in a royal court, and the king delivers his inaugural address, in which he lays out in considerable detail what life in his kingdom will be like” (34-35).

Jesus declares that his followers would be mistreated for seeking righteousness (10).

He looks to these twelve men who are serving as visual aids to the gospel message that he has preached. He tells them that they are going to be mistreated, but that does not mean that they are cursed. He is turning that curse around and making it a blessing.

Turner says that the “radical spirituality of the Beatitudes directly confronts several cultural views of God’s approval. One of these is that popularity with one’s peers indicates divine approval, but this is plainly contradicted by the statement that those who are persecuted by their peers have God’s approval” (147).

Jesus predicted that the mistreatment would include insults, persecutions, and false accusations (11).

Lawson asks what it is that Christians do that seems to invite trouble. One of his answers is that “Christians invite persecution by their advocacy of strange values. They are not only opposed to current trends but are strong for opposing ones” (64).

Throughout history, Christians have been behind the moral revolutions that sought a change in the status quo. We have not always had the backing of our respective governments. Sometimes it has been our governments who doled out the insults, persecutions, and false accusations. Even the organized church has often taken its place as the antagonist against Christians seeking change. But we keep on sticking out like a sore thumb in a world of sameness.

Garland says the “switch from the third to the second person directly addresses a Christian community that has been the target of harassment, public scorn, and libel” (58-59). But in fact, that is not the case. Jesus’ direct address is to the apostles, but he knows that they and their followers will experience these things. He is looking into the future — the whole future, from his ascension to his return. He knows what kind of lives his followers will live. He sees more about that than they do.

Jesus would bring up this fact of their being persecuted in his sermon about his second coming:

“Then they will hand you over to be persecuted and will kill you. You will be hated by all the nations because of my name. Then many will be led into sin, and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will appear and deceive many, and because lawlessness will increase so much, the love of many will grow cold. But the person who endures to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached throughout the whole inhabited earth as a testimony to all the nations, and then the end will come” (Matthew 24:9-14 NET).

Jesus commanded them to rejoice because their reward is great in heaven (12).

He said that they should rejoice and be glad because their reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before them in the same way. Remember, he is not saying that heaven is their reward. He said it is in heaven, and it is going to come down to earth for them. The reason they can rejoice is that they know the end of the story.

We can rejoice for the same reason. We know that the persecutors will not succeed. We can listen to the insults and patiently endure them because they are just words. And even if the persecutors do more than just talk, we can still endure it because our eternal destiny is sure. Our king is coming back, and he is going to set things right.

Jesus gave the prophets as an example of those who endured persecution but stayed faithful. They will live again, and all those who criticized their words, ridiculed their ministries, and falsely accused them will face God’s wrath. All believers can rejoice because we will be vindicated just like those prophets will.

N. T. Wright calls these beatitudes “a summons to live in the present in the way that will make sense in God’s promised future” (38). The solution to being mistreated today is the absolute assurance that it will not continue forever. God’s rule will return. The king will return and destroy all his enemies — even death itself.

So, our Lord’s command to REJOICE (as we have seen) is his one size fits all instruction for all of the believers characterized by the beatitudes. He calls on all his subjects to rejoice, not because everything will be wonderful now, but because everything will be made wonderful when he returns.

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Clements, R E. Deuteronomy. England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997.

Garland, David E. Reading Matthew: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the First Gospel. New York: Crossroad, 1993.

Hare, Douglas R. A. Matthew: Interpretation. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1993.

Lawson, E L. R. Matthew. Cincinnati, Ohio: Standard Pub, 1986.

Payne, David F. Deuteronomy: The Daily Study Bible Series. , 1985

Turner, David L. Matthew. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2008.

Wright, N T. Matthew for Everyone: Chapters 1-15. London: SPCK, 2004.

LET THE MISTREATED REJOICE.mp3

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