"You Asked for It 2010" part 1
The Radical Rules of the Kingdom
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
August 15, 2010



Welcome to part one in our You Asked for It message series for 2010. Beginning today and taking us through Labour Day, I will be speaking each Sunday in response to requests I have received from you. And today, to kick off the series, we’re going to talk about the Beatitudes.

Now, in case you don’t know, I’m allergic to bee stings. So I’m afraid when any bee has a bee-attitude. So I considered talking about that for a while. But I don’t think that’s the kind of beatitude the request was referring to.

I think the request was to talk about the first part of what we call the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew chapter 5 (and is also recorded in the passage we just read from Luke). We call it a sermon, but it wasn’t really a sermon. It was more of an informal talk that Jesus had with his disciples. Except that there were other people hanging around too, and they started listening in, and by the time Jesus finished talking at the end of chapter 7, there’s a whole crowd that has formed. So maybe he really did start preaching.

And what Jesus talked about in these three chapters was really radical. They were the rules according to the Kingdom of God, but not our earthly kingdom. What Jesus said was counter-cultural. And the people were simply in awe of His teachings. Now, for you and me, much of what Jesus said in His talk usually doesn’t carry the same punch anymore. Because we’ve kind of grown immune to it. It doesn’t have the same impact because we’ve just heard it too many times.

Think about how some of the things Jesus said in these three chapters have been woven into our everyday vernacular…

•    You are the salt of the earth.
•    You are the light of the world.
•    Turn the other cheek.
•    Go the extra mile.
•    Give the shirt off your back.
•    Don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.
•    The Lord’s Prayer is in this section.
•    Jesus says, “No one can serve two masters.”
•    Store up treasure in Heaven.
•    Don’t worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will worry about itself.
•    Judge not, lest you be judged. (Which, by the way, people take to mean something very different from what Jesus meant. But that’s for another day…)
•    Don’t throw your pearls before swine.
•    Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
•    Wolf in sheep’s clothing
•    You’ll be known by your fruit (kind of a forerunner to “the proof is in the pudding”)
•    He talked about The highway to Hell (and you thought it was AC/DC)

All of those originate from these three chapters. And while today they’re pretty common sayings, when Jesus first said them they were revolutionary. They were radical. His entire talk was. Including the very first part, which we’re looking at this morning: the Beatitudes.

Now, “Beatitudes” is kind of a funny word. You don’t even hear the word unless it’s referring to this passage in Matthew, or occasionally to that passage over in Luke. But it’s not an everyday word. The word itself comes from the Latin meaning “blessed” or “happy.” And if you’re familiar at all with the Beatitudes, you understand why they are named that. Because for eight verses, every sentence Jesus says begins with the word “Blessed.” [or as some people pronounce it, “Bless-ed”.]

Now, let’s establish the setting. At the time of Jesus, the most prominent people in the Jewish community were the Pharisees. These were the religious leaders of the day, and they were good at putting on a show. They lived according to a religious code of conduct that most people in the society could never attain. They raised the bar high and were able to clear it almost without fail. And they were sure to parade their religious superiority around so everyone understood just how incredibly gifted they were when it came to living a spiritually rich life.

Enter Jesus. This unknown teacher starts traveling around the countryside talking about the Kingdom of God. And because of the incredible miracles He was performing, news about Him began to spread. People started asking, “What is this Kingdom Jesus is talking about? And more importantly, how do I get in? What do I have to do? Could I ever measure up? I’ll never be as good as those Pharisees; so what chance do I have?”

So this whole crowd of people came out to eavesdrop as Jesus spoke with His disciples. They had shown up hoping to hear Him talk about the Kingdom of Heaven. Would Jesus give a list of requirements to get in? Would He tell them who could qualify? Would He tell them if they even had a shot?

And so Jesus begins to speak… and he begins with the word, “Blessed…” And the people weren’t expecting that at all. They were expecting to hear a list of religious duties they needed to perform. They thought they’d be told how they could never measure up. But instead of laying down a list of required actions, Jesus talks about how they are blessed. And He proceeds to tell them how they are blessed not by checking off a list of religious obligations, but by character issues.

And thus begins the Beatitudes. At least, that’s what we’ve come to call these 12 verses at the beginning of Matthew chapter 5. There are eight of them, and we’re going to have to move through them rather quickly… each one really could be a message on it’s own. So I hope you packed a lunch. ☺


Kingdom Rules, a.k.a. the Beatitudes:

1.    Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (v.3)

What is Jesus saying? He is saying, “You are blessed if you recognize your need of God, because Heaven is meant for you.”

Now, remember who was listening in… people who for years had been shown up by the religious leaders, the Pharisees. These Pharisees would have considered themselves rich in spirit, and others would have seen them that way, too.

But Jesus says, “The Kingdom of Heaven is for the poor in spirit. It’s for the spiritually bankrupt. It’s for those wallowing in religious poverty. It’s for the people who can’t measure up to a religious code of conduct and know it!”

At another time, Jesus told this story…

Luke 18:10-14 (NLT)
“Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

That Pharisee was a good person. He had done some good things. But he was proud and arrogant. He thought he had it made. He was not poor in spirit.

Isaiah 64:6 (NLT)
We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags.

No matter how good we are, we still need God. And that’s what being poor in spirit means. It’s being humble before God. You are blessed if you are the poor in spirit and realize your need of God, for yours is the Kingdom of Heaven. Heaven is meant for you.


2.    Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. (v.4)

We all experience loses in life. We may experience the death of someone we love… a co-worker, a friend, a family member. We may have our dreams dashed and destroyed. We may have some kind of serious setback in our lives. These are personal loses, and they should be mourned. And as you do, Jesus says you will be comforted. That’s the way it works in the Kingdom. Back in the Old Testament, it says…

Psalm 147:3 (NLT)
He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.

When I was away last week with the boys, I took Nate to a playground one evening. And he had a great time on the equipment… climbing the steps, crawling through the tunnel, swinging on the swing, and sliding down the slide. And nearby there was a basketball court on some asphalt. So we went over to bounce the ball around. And it came time to go, so we started to leave. And within two feet of the edge of the asphalt, down he went. He tripped and landed flat on the asphalt. And he scrapped up his knee pretty bad.

So what did I do? I left him to cry until he got over it of course; I didn’t want to deal with the crying. No, that’s not what I did. I picked him up and help him close. I even got blood all over my clothes. But I comforted him, then I took him to the cottage to clean out his wound and put a bandage on. And it healed up pretty nicely. But you know, it didn’t get all better immediately. It took some time to heal. In fact, you can still see the marks. But I comforted Nate, and I bandaged up his wounds, and the healing process began.

God blesses you when you are wounded… when you are in mourning… because you will be comforted. And the healing process can begin.


3.    Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. (v.5)

This is one of those times when you see that the value system of God is completely different than the value system of this world. In a world where the pushy prevail, where the domineering dominate, where to get to the top you have to trample on others, Jesus says… “If you are meek… then take heart, because everything that others struggle and fight and compete to win will be yours. You will inherit the earth.”

Later on in Matthew, Jesus says…

Matthew 23:11-12 (NLT)
“The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Someone who’s meek is humble. Now, I think there’s a danger in discussing meekness, in that we equate meekness with weakness. But meek does not equal weak. Write that down…

Meek does not equal Weak

Meek does not equal weak. Being humble does not mean having an inferiority complex. It means that you are kind in how you treat others. You’re not boastful but modest. You don’t always demand your own way but you look out for others.

And Jesus says, “If you are meek, if you are humble, if you defer to others, someday you will inherit the earth.”


Now, by this time, the people in the crowd that day were sitting there amazed at His teaching. They sat with wide-eyed wonderment at what He was saying. So Jesus continued…


4.    Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. (v.6)

What is righteousness? It can mean a couple things. It can mean that you do the right things and it can mean that you’re right with God. It’s having a right relationship with God that’s unhindered by sinfulness or possessions or pride or anything else. So Jesus says you’re blessed if more than anything else you want to be right with God.

In John 3, there’s a Pharisee and member of the Jewish ruling council named Nicodemus, who came to Jesus saying, “I teach religion, but I know I’m not right with God. How can I become right with Him?” He was hungering and thirsting. He was experiencing hunger pangs for righteousness.

Have you ever been at home and suddenly you developed hunger pangs for a specific food? Nothing else will do; only that one item will satisfy your hunger?

Well, when you hunger and thirst for righteousness, nothing else will do. When you desire more than anything else to be right with God, good deeds won’t do it for you, religious rituals won’t do it for you… the only way to satisfy that hunger is to become right with God. And Jesus says if that is truly your desire, it’s going to happen. If you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you will be satisfied.


5.    Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. (v.7)

Mercy is a vital ingredient in any relationship. I don’t think a relationship can survive without mercy. Take marriage for example. Can you imagine a marriage void of mercy? It wouldn’t last very long. Because you need to be merciful in order to be forgiving.

We all want our mistakes to be forgiven. We all want other people to show us mercy. We all want God to be merciful toward us. And Jesus tells us, “God wants to have mercy you… He wants to forgive your sins… and He’s offering it to you free of charge. But you also need to be merciful toward others.” In fact, later on in His talk, Jesus explained just how important this is…

Matthew 6:14-15 (NLT)
“If you forgive those who sin against you, your heavenly Father will forgive you. But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins.”

If you want to experience mercy, you need to show mercy.


6.    Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. (v.8)

Jesus is saying, “In the Kingdom, more attention is paid to internals than externals. Blessed are the pure IN HEART…”

And this would have been a slap to the face for the Scribes and for the Pharisees. They had focused on he externals and performing the right actions, doing the right things. But Jesus says, “No, it’s the internals that matter. It’s the purity of the heart. The externals will follow, but what matters is a transformation of the heart… of the real person.”

Because it’s not just what you do that matters… it’s why you do it. It’s your motivation. It’s what’s on the inside. You may be able to fool all kinds of people by acting right and by talking right… but God look beyond the externals and looks straight into your heart… at the person you really are, at what really motivates you, at the condition of your character.

1 Samuel 16:7 (NLT)
“The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”

So do externals matter? Yes. But only as they are a reflection of what is on the inside. Jesus served notice to the people on the hillside that day and to us today that His primary concern has been and always will be with the heart.

How do you get a pure heart? That’s the work of God. All you can do is submit yourself to Him and allow Him to transform your life. Ask Him to, and He will. Allow Him to take you through His refining fire, and let Him purify your heart.


7.    Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. (v.9)

Yes, I know it says “sons of God.” That’s from the NIV; other translations say “sons and daughters” or “children of God.” So it’s not a sexist thing, okay? “Blessed are you if you desire and work for peace, for you will be called the children of God.”

Now, we all know people who are skilled at stirring up dissent. I know people who are always trying to cause trouble. It’s like a hobby for them. But they’re not the people God is going to bless. Jesus says God will bless the peacemakers.

Here’s what you need to know about a peacemaker:
•    A peacemaker will not start unnecessary arguments,
•    will not join in unnecessary quarrels,
•    will refuse to spread gossip,
•    will not stab people in the back,
•    will not play people against each other,
•    will not push your buttons just to get a rise out of you…

Instead,
•    a peacemaker will encourage people to make amends,
•    will mediate a conflict if necessary,
•    will strive to reconcile relationships,
•    and will help people find peace with each other and peace with God.

Last Friday, there was some sad news reported out of Afghanistan. The bodies of 10 humanitarian workers—medical volunteers—were found after being killed by the Taliban. One of the bodies had belonged to Cheryl Beckett. [PowerPoint] Cheryl was 32 years old, was a graduate of Indiana Wesleyan University (one of the five universities and colleges operated by the Wesleyan Church), and had spent the last six years serving the people of Afghanistan through community development, teaching about nutritional gardening, and focusing on mother-child health. So it’s a tragic situation.

Cheryl’s family released a statement, including these statements…

“The wickedness of terrorism is being conquered through daily acts of mercy. Peace in Afghanistan can be achieved by the establishment of just laws for all people and the continued sacrifice and selfless love of people working together…
We, as a family, will continue to love and pray for the Afghan people. We pray that Cheryl’s life and work will inspire existing and future ministries of mercy to press on.”

Jesus Himself came to make peace. In fact, He was called the Prince of Peace. He came to make peace between self-willed sinners and a holy God. Jesus was the ultimate peacemaker. And if you and I are also peacemakers, we are following in His footsteps.

Do you create peace in your relationships? And even more, do you help others find peace with God? Over in 1 Corinthians chapter 5, it tells us…

2 Corinthians 5:18 (NLT)
And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him.

So we need to be in the peacemaking business… making peace between us and others, and helping others find peace with God.


8.    Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (v.10)

Okay, let me get this straight. We’re supposed to be happy when we’re persecuted? We’re supposed to be glad about being punished? And not just punished, but punished for doing right?!? Hey, I can handle it when I’m punished for doing wrong. Believe me, while I was growing up my parents had to punish me a lot for doing the wrong thing. But even though I understood why I was being punished, I can tell you I never enjoyed it. But punished for doing right? And be glad about it? That’s not just confusing; it’s plain weird.

“Thanks for the wonderful job you’ve done, now off with your head.” Doesn’t make sense, does it? I mean, surely no one could ever be punished for doing right!

But Jesus didn’t say, “You’re blessed if you’re persecuted for being an idiot.” And He didn’t say, “You’re blessed if you’re persecuted for committing a crime.” He said, “You’re blessed if you’re persecuted because of righteousness… for doing the right thing… because you have a right relationship with Me.”

Here, try this. Take your pen, and in the blank space in your message notes I want you to try some math.

Write down your shoe size. (If it’s a half size, round it down, not up.)
Multiply that by 2.
Now add 5. So far, so good?
Now multiply by 50 and add 1760 and subtract the year of your birth.
The last two digits should be how old you are or how old you will turn this year.
 [Note: this works for the year 2010. For 2011, change 1760 to 1761, etc.]

Anybody understand that? Probably not. But just because it doesn’t make sense to you doesn’t mean it’s not true. It may not make sense to you how you can be punished for doing right, but you can.

A number of years ago, Madam Tussaud’s Wax Museum finished a 10-year long survey. Over that time, they asked people to name the people they admired most in history. 35,000 people surveyed, top five answers are on the board…

1. Winston Churchill
2. Joan of Arc
3. Jesus Christ
4. John F. Kennedy
5. Robin Hood

These are people that we respect and admire. They did good things. Surely that proves that the people who do right are honoured. Yeah, sure. Let’s go through them… Churchill was voted out of office, Joan of Arc burned at the stake, Jesus Christ crucified, JFK assassinated, and Robin Hood hunted as a criminal. Sorry to burst your bubble, but the good are not always rewarded for doing good.

And if society could persecute and eventually murder the God-Man, Jesus Christ, then it seems clear that society could persecute any who choose to follow Him and call themselves by His name.

Jesus knew this. That’s why He added a bit of commentary to this Beatitude. This is the only one Jesus expanded on, and this is what He said:

Matthew 5:11-12 (NLT)
“God blesses you when people mock you and persecute you and lie about you and say all sorts of evil things against you because you are my followers. Be happy about it! Be very glad! For a great reward awaits you in heaven. And remember, the ancient prophets were persecuted in the same way.”

So why be glad? Three reasons…

•    It guarantees me a reward in Heaven

Jesus said, “great is your reward in Heaven.” It may suck to suffer for doing what is right, but you’ve got Heaven to look forward to.

•    It puts me in good company

Jesus pointed out that even the prophets were persecuted for doing right and being right. Read through the Bible, and you’ll find that pretty much every hero of the faith had to endure some kind of persecution. So you’re in good company.

•    It identifies me with Jesus

John 15:18,20 (NLT)
“If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first. … Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you.”

Hey, persecution is not fun. (That may be the most obvious statement I’ve ever made, and I’ve made some doozies.) But the truth is, even when we face times of persecution and discrimination and punishment and ridicule and abuse because of our faith… and if you haven’t face it yet you will. It is coming. But even then, there is an upside. One day, not too far away, all this will be done and we can spend eternity with our God in Heaven.

And that really is a reason to be happy. We really are blessed.

 

 

Copyright © Greg Hanson, 2010 SunriseOnline.ca