Dear Friends,

As we continue to study the life of Jesus we see the emphasis He gives to our
inner life, our character, not just our outward appearance and actions as the
former precedes the latter in true spiritual righteousness. "Man looks
at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart." (1 Samuel
16:7) Yet these character qualities can only come from the Lord working in us
and through us. Thus, the first beatitude, realizing our poverty of spirit,
brings us to see both our need for God’s salvation and our on-going need for
His Spirit to flow through us to manifest the character of the Lord Jesus.

Jesus’ values The world’s values
poor in spirit self-confident, self-reliant
mourn over sin pleasure-seeking, hedonistic
meek proud, powerful, important
hunger for righteousness satisfied, practical
merciful self-righteous
pure in heart sophisticated, broad-minded
peacemakers competitive and aggressive
persecuted for righteousness popular/don’t rock the boat

(Larry Richards, The Teacher’s Commentary)

Jesus calls us to redefine "Reality" from what the world teaches
us. He tells us to pursue gain and profit but in an entirely different way (and
place – heaven) from what the world tells us – and to pursue an entirely different
value system, the Beatitudes. And although this requires a radical change in
our thinking and actions, we would be foolish not to hear and, by God’s grace,
obey what He calls us to. This ‘blessedness’ is a state of being, our relationship
with God, more than just a feeling. But as we grasp our blessed state over time
for living God’s way we experience joy and hope as a by-product of our obedience.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit" – both economic poverty and/or oppression
and disillusionment can bring us to a place of poverty of spirit where we know
we have nothing before God except ‘need’ – spiritual bankruptcy. This includes
those who know they can produce no spiritual good apart from God working through
them. "For theirs is the kingdom of heaven." – Spiritual blessings
and resources flow downhill to the lowly and contrite not uphill to the proud
and haughty. (See Isaiah 57:15) This went against the prevailing worldview of
Old Testament saints who, like Job’s counselors, believed that God’s blessings
only went to the "righteous" (which could often be "self-righteous"
ones) while the poor and those in trials were getting their due for sin.

"Blessed are those who mourn" – loss or lack produces sadness and
in this case the loss and lack is true inner righteousness (not external self-righteousness
as seen in the Pharisees) and thus we mourn over our sins and the sins of those
around us. For sin, which grieves God’s heart, now grieves our hearts. "Streams
of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed." (Psalm 119:136)
"For they will be comforted." – Comforted first of all by the good
news of the gospel "your sins are forgiven." (See Isaiah 61:1-3) And
comforted in our trials by the REAL presence and comfort of our Lord. And the
present hope of the future and ultimate comfort when we will be face to face
with God Who will "wipe away every tear" and promises us "no
more sorrow, no more crying, no more pain" (Revelation 21:3-5). Having
been comforted by the Lord we "weep with those who weep" and comfort
them with the comfort of the Lord. (Romans 12:15; 2 Corinthians 1:3-4)

"Blessed are the meek" – When we are meek before the Lord it is much
easier to humble ourselves before others. "Submit to one another out of
reverence for Christ." (Ephesians 5:21) Like Jesus who always submitted
to His Father and described Himself as "meek and lowly in heart" we
bow before the Lord and humbly serve others. Yet meekness does not mean weakness
or never confronting those who are wrong. Jesus often confronted the Pharisees
and even His own disciples for their self-centeredness. "For they will
inherit the earth.." – Scripture tells us that it is not the proud and
powerful who have an inner peace and contentment here on earth but that "godliness
with contentment is great gain" (1 Timothy 6:6). And the godly ones are
not "easily provoked or angered" (1 Corinthians 13:5) when they are
overlooked or slighted. Finally, Jesus tells us that the first shall be last
and the last shall be first and that when He comes to reign on earth (the millennial
kingdom) that the meek will rule with Him. (Luke 13:29-30)

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness" – both
hunger and thirst are not only intense needs they are constant and recurring
needs. This desire that is created by our poverty of spirit and grief over our
sin causes us to passionately and regularly seek after God’s righteousness.
In addition to hungering for personal righteousness we want to see God’s righteousness
for others in this life and ultimately a longing for the restoration of all
things. (Romans 8:18-25; Habakkuk 2:14) "For they will be filled (satisfied)."
– not with self-righteousness but with "the righteousness that comes from
God and is by faith." (Philippians 3:9) This alone satisfies our thirsty
souls and the taste is so great we must have more.

The first four beatitudes are primarily related to our relationship with the
Lord and the next four are primarily related to our relationship with others
– merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers, and persecuted because of righteousness.

"Blessed are the merciful" – God’s mercy is a central Biblical theme
and is seen most clearly and dramatically in the passion of our Lord on the
cross when He said, "Father forgive them for they do not know what they
are doing". God forgives sinners, those who are guilty and deserve His
punishment. (Note: God doesn’t forgive sin, He forgives sinners. A just God
must punish all sin but in His mercy He gave His Son Who voluntarily gave up
His life to satisfy the justice of God for all those who put their trust in
His atoning sacrifice.) Later in the sermon Jesus says that for us to be like
Him we too must forgive even our enemies (Matthew 5:43-48) and be merciful to
all. Unforgiveness breaks fellowship with God (Matthew 6:14, 15) and a hard-hearted,
unforgiving attitude can give the devil a foothold in our life. (Matthew 18:21-35;
Ephesians 4:26-27) The spirit of the world is justice and revenge – "a
pound of flesh" and mercy is foreign to their nature (except when they
want it for themselves). "For they will be shown mercy" or "obtain
(not attain) mercy." We do not earn God’s mercy by being merciful; we obtain
His mercy through salvation by grace. Mercy is not getting what we deserve and
grace is getting more than we deserve. As we realize our great need for God’s
mercy (see the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector – Luke 18:10-14)
God shows His mercy to us. Having realized our need for mercy and having received
God’s mercy causes us in turn to be merciful to others who, like us, need mercy
(not justice) for their sins. Our merciful attitude in turn moves others to
be merciful toward us and thus "we will be shown mercy" again and
again as we will surely need it again and again.

"Blessed are the pure in heart" – a pure heart is what brings about
pure actions and not vice versa. The idea is a single-minded devotion to God,
an undivided heart versus being double-minded and duplicitous. The pure in heart
keep their heart clean only by a continual confession of sin (1 John 1:5-10)
as God’s Word goes deeper and deeper to expose even sinful attitudes, motives
and thoughts. (Hebrews 4:12-13) And as we continue to confess our sins and receive
God’s purifying work in our souls we have a clearer grasp of the glory and beauty
of God. "For they will see God." – God reveals Himself to people according
to their inner character. "To the pure you show yourself pure, but to the
crooked you show yourself shrewd." (Psalm 18:26) The more Pharaoh hardened
his heart against the Lord the more the Lord hardened Himself against Pharaoh
and finally broke him even as He did Jacob the deceiver by giving him some of
his own trickery and shrewdness through Laban. As we become genuine with the
Lord through our on-going confession of sin and quit trying to play games with
Him we will become more genuine with others and quit our pretending and posturing
with them.

"Blessed are the peacemakers" – "shalom" (peace) means
completeness and wholeness in every area of our life beginning with peace with
God ("having been justified by faith" – Romans 5:1) and then with
our neighbors and ultimately peace among nations. As Jesus said, this cannot
be brought about by the sword (communism, Islam) but by putting on the shoes
of the gospel of peace bringing the good news to all the world (Matthew 28:18-20)
that "our God reigns" and that in Him and under Him we can have peace
with one another. (Yet, Romans 13:1-4 speaks of God ordaining governing authorities
to bear the sword against those who practice evil.) "For he himself (Jesus
Christ) is our peace, who has made the two one (Jews and Gentiles) and has destroyed
the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility." (Ephesians 2:14) "And
through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things
in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross." (Colossians
1:20) "For they will be called sons of God." – Even as Jesus the Son
of God, the Prince of Peace, made peace with God for us through His blood we
as "sons of God," men and women, are to be ministers of reconciliation
imploring others to be reconciled with God. "All this is from God, who
reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:
that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s
sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal
through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God
." (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)

"Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness
– "when people insult you because of Me" – As strange as it seems,
the more we grow in the characteristics of citizens of the kingdom (the Beatitudes)
the more we will be persecuted by those outside the kingdom. Of all the righteous
prophets and all the saints who have ever lived there were none more hated and
persecuted for righteousness than our Lord Jesus. And what does Jesus say to
us? If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it
hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its
own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world,
therefore the world hates you." "For everyone practicing evil
hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should
be exposed. (John 15:18-19; 3:20) Hate is a strong word but it truly describes
those who hate the Lord and hate those who try to follow the Lord. Persecution
can be physical (even martyrdom) verbal or being ostracized by friends or family
who "hate the light". (See Matthew 10:34-39) The "blessedness"
for this is both now and especially in eternity. "For theirs is the kingdom
of heaven" and "great is your reward in heaven." – (i.e., eternal
rewards for obedience.1 Corinthians 3:10-15) The "blessedness" now
is the joy and the manifest presence of the Lord because of obedience. "He
who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves
Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.
Jesus answered and said to him, "If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word;
and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with
him." (John 14:21, 23)

"You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how
can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be
thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world." Salt preserves
(especially needed in a society with no refrigeration) and flavors (we are "the
savor of the knowledge of Christ" – 2 Corinthians 2:14 KJV) and we are
to preserve God’s gracious influence in a world of moral decay and bring the
flavor of Christ’s goodness to those around us. We are to life what salt
is to food
. Salty and light-filled Christians make a difference in the lives
of others on this earth here and now and often in real ordinary ways not just
in preaching and witnessing but in the way we live our day to day lives. We
live in a fallen world where sin has so distorted the image of God in people
that anger, dishonesty and busyness hurt those around us and often even those
we love. Rudeness and disrespect and shoddy service is commonplace. A survey
by Public Agenda found that 79% of those surveyed say that lack of respect and
courtesy is a "serious" problem in America; 88% said they often or
sometimes come across people who are rude and disrespectful; 50% surveyed have
walked out of stores because of poor service. Yet those surveyed had few suggestions
for solutions.

Although we must speak out the gospel with our lips, our lives often speak
louder than our words in both a positive and negative way. We must continually
ask the Lord (and even ask others) how "salty and light" we are at
home, at work, at the ballgames (and especially when our children are on the
field) and at play. Would our wives, children, friends, customers, suppliers
and store clerks be drawn to the Lord through the way we relate to them?

My friend Chris White has some penetrating questions to test our salt and light
influence for Jesus:
In a busy world do I make time for others?
In an angry world do I wait and pray before I react?
In a worried world do I have a palpable peace and contentment?
In a world of dishonest business practices and cutting corners do I have genuine
integrity even when it costs me?
In a depressed world do I have the joy of the Lord? Not necessarily a bubbly
personality but a depth of hope and trust in the goodness of the Lord that gives
me joy even in difficult times. (See Psalm 27:13-14)
Am I making a difference for Christ’s sake in the lives of those around me?

Until He comes,

Len and Kristen

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