Bible Reading Matthew 4:23-5:1
Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people. News about him spread all over Syria, and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering severe pain, the demon-possessed, those having seizures, and the paralyzed, and he healed them. Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan followed him. Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him. (NIV)
Message “Recognize Our Place” Matthew 4:23-5:3
Adele Gaboury disappeared. Concerned neighbors informed the police. A distant brother said he thought she had gone to a nursing home. Satisfied with that information, Gaboury's neighbors began watching the property.
Then Michael Crawley noticed the mail slot in the door was piling high with mail. He opened the outer door and 100s of pieces of mail drifted out. He notified the police, and they discontinued the mail.
Elieen Douglass hired her grandson to mow the lawn. Later, the grandson's dad noticed that frozen water pipes had caused water to spill out the door. They called the utility company and got the water turned off.
But then when no one came to fix and clean up the damage, the police were again called to inspect the home. They were shocked to discover that Adel Gaboury had not gone missing at all. She had passed away when they first noticed her absence 4 years prior. Thanks to her well-intentioned and helpful neighbors, the overall respectable appearance of her property outside hid the reality of what was going on inside.
The same happens to people. They can appear outwardly respectable while spiritually dead. All sorts of external activity can conceal their internal situation. We need an inner life, not just an outer facade.
People heard the stories of Jesus’ healings and came from all over to see him. Jesus goes up on a slope ascending from the Sea of Galilee and sits down. Rabbis informally taught all the time by conversation and example as they walked along; but official, authoritative teaching was given from the seated position.) Jesus delivers what we now call the sermon on the mount – the essence of Jesus’ teachings throughout his ministry – delivered to his disciples – and overheard by the crowds
He begins with what are called the beatitudes. Beatitudes are not to be read as a list of commandments, as in "Thou shalt be poor in spirit!" Nor are they considered the “work duties” of the faithful person. Nor are they "Nine steps to happiness". And they are not "Instructions to earn God's approval and rewards" On the Prairie Home Companion, Garrison Kellior talked of taking a trip to Hawaii. He ran into an unhappy, coveting preacher at the airport. He knew this because the preacher said, "I guess we who pay our tithes cannot afford to go to places like Hawaii..." When you went to the ticket counter, did you fill out your approval application -- you know, the one that asks how many sacrificial deeds you did this year to deserve a trip to paradise?
Beatitudes are not a prescription to earn what you want from God, they are descriptive of ever-growing inner qualities
In short, the beatitudes are not a prescriptive list of what you must do to earn what you want from God. Instead, Christ's beatitudes are de-scriptive of the ever-growing inner attitudes and qualities (and their resulting actions and benefits) that happens naturally within those who agree to be children of God (meaning, people who enter a relationship with him and strive to take on his nature) by receiving, trusting, and following Christ as the Spirit leads them. Jesus says these people are blessed.
“Blessed" means happy, congratulations to, lucky are, well off, wholeness, privileged (not in the sense of better than others, but in the sense of humbly honored with the opportunity to participate in) Blessed are you...
- poor in spirit
- hunger and thirst
We don't always feel like that. And the beatitudes certainly aren’t meant to imply that once we’ve agreed to become a child of God that everything that comes our way will be joy inducing. If you read down the first phrase of many of beatitudes, it becomes obvious that the garden of life has thorns as well as roses…. The trick is to not be overcome by the prickly parts – maybe even become stronger by them, so that we can experience the wonderful aroma and beauty of life.
On a balmy Oct. afternoon in 1982 the MSU Spartans went to Badger stadium. Over 60,000 Wisconsin supporters were there, but it was quickly obvious that MSU had the better team that day. Even as the score became more and more lopsided, there were still oddly placed bursts of cheer. The reason was that many fans had brought portable radios and were listening to the Brewers beating the Cardinals in game 3 of the World Series. Despite what the Badgers were failing to do right in front of them, they responded to what the Brewers were doing 70 miles away. They were responding to something beyond their immediate circumstances.
We too, are encouraged to fix our focus beyond the immediate circumstances in front of us, on what is not seen, and on what is not yet -- but can yet become. (See Colossians 3:1-3, Hebrews 11:1 ff). As we do, we may begin to experience "blessed-ness" even in hardships because we can see a bigger picture, Christ's ultimate and larger victory. It is what allowed disciples to sing and praise while they were jailed and stoned. Finding that joy does not necessarily come easily for many of us. What Jesus promises are not mental gymnastics, nor goose-bump-giving gimmicks to pump ourselves up. The Beatitudes describe God's radical (and most often, long term) transformation of our heart.
Some scholars see this as the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament rite of Blessings and Cursings. The Luke version of this sermon reinforces this idea (because it also includes a list or “woes” (warnings). (See Luke 6:20-26). Those rites attempt to drive home what we agreed to when we took God as our God -- and therefore take on his characteristics, to feel and act as God would act; and if we do -- in general and ultimately, it will go well with us – but if we defy the Source of all life, go our own way, then in general and ultimately, it will not go well with us, so it is best that we choose to become one of God’s children and allow him to work his characteristics into us.
Jesus uses the first beatitude to describe that choice when
L: Jesus began to teach them
P: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
The poor in spirit
To put it simply, we will become blessed if we recognize that we need God in our life. God is not trying to make us weak and dependent, or leaning on him as a crutch, as some people derisively put it.
Bill Hybels explains. When he was first learning to sail his dad's sailboat on Lake Ml, the father would tell him, 'Go ahead and take the boat out, but take a friend with you." A 42-foot sailboat on Lake Michigan is a big responsibility. But he'd find a junior high friend to go with him, and they'd sail past the breakwater, hoist the sails, and head out to open water. But as soon as he saw any cloud formations coming, or the wind seemed to be picking up, he'd turn back towards shore, take the sails down, and regain his normal breathing pattern only when they were safely tied up in the harbor. It was fun having a friend along, but in a storm he knew they’d be little help. Other times, however, his dad and he would go out together. When sailing with him, he'd actually hope for cloud formations and heavy air. He loved the feel of the strong winds and huge waves! His dad had sailed across the Atlantic Ocean, had endured five days of sailing through a hurricane. He was a veteran sailor, and Hybels was confident that his father would be able to handle anything Lake Michigan could throw at them. Everything changed when his dad was on board. The point is clear. When God is in our life, everything is different because he can handle everything the world can throw at us.
We need his expertise
With God as an experienced parent and Creator, he is no mere crutch helping us limp through life. It just makes sense to accept God's gracious offer to work in us according to his expertise -- guiding our life and transforming our heart.
As Max Lucado describes “poor in spirit”: "You don't impress the officials at NASA with a paper airplane. You don't boast about your crayon sketches in the presence of Picasso. You don't claim equality with Einstein because you can write H20. And you don't boast about your [self-sufficient] goodness in the presence of the Perfect.”
Yet some do… (See Matthew 7:21-23) and when they did, Jesus makes it clear that God does not save us because of what we've done. God cannot be bought by money or motions. God does for His children what He does for them because He is a great loving God who does for them what they cannot do for themselves. To be inwardly alive requires God, the Source of all life, dwelling within, and the sooner we recognize that, the sooner we will be blessed and moving toward inner wholeness.
Kingdom of heaven
The reward on knowing our need for God in our heart and asking for him to come and lead us is to receive the kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven, taken physically and literally or spiritually and metaphorically, simply means “where God rules”. As we follow him with our hearts, his rule is there; and hopefully it will not remain deeply buried in our hearts but will work its way out into our attitudes and words and actions so that all will recognize his rule in our life.
A missionary to Laos, John Hess-Yoder says that before national boundaries were imposed, the kings of Laos and Vietnam reached an agreement on taxation in the border areas. Those who ate short-grain rice built their houses on stilts and decorated them with Indian style serpents were considered Laotians. On the other hand, those who ate long-grain rice, built their houses on the ground, and decorated them with Chinese style dragons were considered Vietnamese. The exact geographic location of the home was not what determined their nation. Instead each person belonged to the kingdom whose cultural values they exhibited." We are not Christian because of where we live or where we go, but when, wherever we find ourselves, we demonstrate and live His cultural values.
The first beatitude brings us potential for happiness as we realize our need God and are willing to receive the benefits of his powerful expertise to rule our life. Both sides of the beatitude are needed. If all we can see is failure and need (our poverty in spirit) – without seeing God’s rule of loving grace -- the result is hopeless futility. If we see ourselves as a part of God’s rule (the kingdom of heaven) without humbly recognizing our need for God, we have godless arrogance and judgmentalism. But get them together in the same heart - poor in spirit and the kingdom of heaven (humble acceptance of Jesus Christ ruling) then all kinds of potential happiness begins to burst forth.
Consider your spiritual status, your privilege, your blessing of being a child of God - Yours is the kingdom of heaven! Open yourselves up to hear God's gracious approval in your heart as you rely on Him.
Closing Prayer Lord, we confess that we have looked for our ultimate hope in the confident and strong, who rely on things that are false, that are not you. Sometimes without even realizing it, we sunk into a pit of muddy ooze. But now we cry out, “Do not withhold your mercy from us.” We patiently wait for you… You lift us up and set us on firm ground. Your grace and truth preserve us. Nothing compares to your wonders and your thoughts toward us. You put a song of praise back into our lives. We hold your desires at the heart of our being. Doing your will is our joy. Many will see and put their trust in you and be blessed.
Closing Hymns # 397 (vv 3,4,5) I Need Thee Every Hour
# 422 (vv 1,4) Jesus, Thine All-Victorious Love
Closing Blessing Everything good comes from God’s hand. He fills your minds and hearts with his love. Love him above all things. Desire to please him. Receive the joy he has prepared for you. Amen.