Blessed are those who are persecuted? Yeah, I know, there's more to the sentence, but just that opened of this Beatitude sounds so strange to my ears. Nonetheless, this is what Jesus says to those who are listening. "You are blessed when you are persecuted unfairly-- when you're doing the right thing." And why? "Because theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
Jesus presents hope to those who are suffering, reminding us that, because we have taken Jesus up on His invitation to life on His terms, we now get God with us and all the promises that come with Him.
Even when we're in the midst of the greatest struggles, it's helpful to remember that...
Come what may, God's got His.
Peace? What is it? If you take our societal view of it, you probably have in your mind someone who's pretty "chill" and doesn't really cause any conflict. And, yeah, to some degree, it does have to do with how we handle conflict-- but it's so much more than the absence of it.
The writers of the Bible pepper all of their writings with this concept of "shalom" (Hebrew) or Eirene (Greek)-- it's the idea that things are whole, completely right.
And, if a person takes Jesus up on His offer to the life He's offering, you get "peace" like no other-- right relationship with God and the infinite possibility of right relationships with people. You get to be called a "son or daughter" of God. That's amazing. Because, on the one hand, it means that we get all the rights and privileges that a son or daughter would have; but, on the other hand, we also have this awesome opportunity to "resemble" our Father in heaven. We can be "chips off the old block.
And as God's reign brings peace-- we bring peace too-- because that's what God's kids do.
"Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."
That doesn't seem right...if we're honest. It seems a whole lot more likely that bullies seem to take control. We see it in our culture all the time, whether it's a "jerk" or a "mean girl"-- oftentimes, they seem to be the ones who gain the most ground the most quickly in life. It's like when a piñata gets opened-- who's going to get the most candy? The meek? Nope, it's going to be aggressive kid who's willing to throw elbows.
That's why it's so wild when Jesus says that "meekness" is going to be a characteristic of those who have chosen to come out from the crowd and become a follower of Him. Not only are Jesus' followers going to be meek, but they have the Ultimate Meek Example, in the way that Jesus laid down His life for others-- never selfishly asserting His own will over others.
Jesus echoes a promise from Psalm 37:9-11, that basically says this: "It looks like the bullies are getting ahead. But keep following God. He's got something amazing for you."
What's so awesome? Peace with God. Internal peace. Peace with others. And, oh yeah, knowing that we will truly have it all when we have Jesus for eternity.
So, yeah, join the meek squad. For one, you'll look more like Jesus. For two, you're going to inherit the earth.
Give up ground on the things that don't matter to gain ground in the areas that do.
The meek gain the ground that matters."
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted."
That was the springboard for our discussion last night. A quick reminder, when Jesus uttered these words in real-time, He was speaking to those who had decided to step out of the crowd and into a life of following Him. And, for those people-- those who place their faith in Jesus-- their mourning will be met with comfort.
Well, because there are some RIGHT NOW elements for those who have placed their faith in Jesus. Right now, someone can cross that line into faith and experience the joy of knowing that their sins are forgiven. They can begin to be transformed from the inside out. And much of what we mourn has to do with those things. So that's huge.
But there's also the NOT YET (oh, but it's going to happen) aspects of that promise. Because, in the end, we have this beautiful scene that's been shown by John in His revelation about the future in which it says that God will wipe every tear from our eyes. Whatever is broken will be made whole. Whatever was once sick will be made well. And whatever has been empty will be made full. It's all a part of this certain future for anyone who decides to follow Jesus.
And, in this IN BETWEEN time. We have a hope that we can bring into walking alongside our friends who mourn. We have a comfort that we can share because God has shared His comfort with us.
So...until that awesome future day...
"We mourn differently because we have a different Hope."
This past Tuesday night, we talked about the first "blessed" statement in Jesus' Sermon on the mountain: "blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." There is so much packed into those few words.
For one, we have to adjust our idea of what "blessed" means in this culture (and church culture) because we all tend to gravitate towards this idea that, "we get stuff because God likes us" when we're "blessed." So we unpacked that word-- that it maybe is a little less about what Bruno Mars is talking about in 24 Karat Magic and it's a whole lot more of being looked at favorably from God's perspective.
We talked about the idea of "poor in spirit"-- and, yes, although there are "holier than thou people" rampant in Christianity, we're not called to be like that AT ALL. In fact, we're called to bring--cough, cough-- NOTHING to the table when it comes to God. We are "spiritually bankrupt," which means that we have nothing that we can hang our hats on to say, "Hey God, look at how awesome I am when it comes to moral stuff." Nope. We cannot do that. And Jesus, when He gave this message in history, is saying that, if want to experience all of the "blessed-ness" of being a part of what He's up to in the world RIGHT NOW (present tense), we should take an inventory of where we really stand-- which is bankrupt. Because, if we start from that posture of humility and dependence, we are ready to receive God's lifting-us-up and enablement.
God's riches start with our bankruptcy.
Last night, we talked about how Jesus' teachings can be easily misunderstood if we don't have a good grasp of what this whole "kingdom of heaven" idea is about. Again, it's the idea that Jesus rules and reigns in whatever place we're talking about. So, for example, God's kingdom can come near as a person takes a step of faith out of "the crowd" and into being a disciple of Jesus because, at the end of the day, that person is allowing Jesus to rule and reign in his or her heart. In the future, sure, there will also be a time in which Jesus will rule and reign on this earth (think "every knee will bow, every tongue will confess" that Jesus is the King). But, in the meantime, God's kingdom starts to grow and take shape in those who take the step of faith to believe in Jesus.
Jesus has invited people into the kingdom-- and, at the point of the Sermon on the Mount, many have taken Him up on that offer. When He's teaching, He's aiming it at those who have chosen to follow Him with their lives. That being said, He always has an eye on the crowd-- making sure that those who are on the "outside looking in" that they are one decision away from entering into the kingdom.
With all of that it order, it lays down the foundation for what we're going to be considering for the rest of the semester. These "blessed are the ___" statements that are to come are really expressions of what it's going to look like for someone who has already become a disciple to live life fully alive. With God's grace at their back and the power of the Holy Spirit within, a follower of Jesus is going to be able to "advance' throughout their life and relationships, reflecting these very things that Jesus taught.
We can't follow Jesus' teachings on our own. On our own, we can't "go the extra mile" or "turn the other cheek." We can't really be "peacemakers" or truly "poor in spirit." But the good news of the kingdom is this: with God we can.
We have the extra mile walking power of God within us.
We have the cheek turning strength of Jesus in our hearts.
And all those other "blessed" things, those things we're going to talk about this semester are possible IN US as we take up Jesus' offer to take that first step of faith and trust in Him.
"Kingdom living is the overflow of being graced with kingdom life."
Last night, we talked about expectations. We talked about how hyped we can get about a movie, when it is coming out-- and how, sometimes, the movie just doesn't meet our expectations. We also talked about how, if we're honest, there are times that Jesus' coming and His proclamation that "the kingdom of heaven is near" doesn't seem nearly as awesome as it sounds on paper. With all the things that we're hoping to happen and all the things that have yet to change in this world, how can we still keep hope (and focus) in this "already but not yet" kingdom?
The encouragement is this. Since Jesus came in the way that He did (fulfilling all the prophesies He did), we can TRUST God even in the midst of our doubts. Since Jesus died and rose again in the way that He did, when we accept His invitation, we can TRUST that God is for us. And, since we've been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, we can TRUST that God is going to continue to advance within us, bringing to life every aspect of our being.
The bottom line is that we are to be about the advance of God's "kingdom" in this world (helping people to know that God has invited us into having real life). And, although some things haven't worked themselves out YET, we can trust that, while we wait for all those things, we can advance!
"While we wait, we advance."