Blessed are the poor in spirit | Part 1

For the next few days, we will be examining the beatitudes which Jesus outlines at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount. In what has been described as the greatest sermon ever preached Jesus outlines the counter cultural values of his kingdom and instructs us how we are to swim against the current of our culture. Salmon are fish born in freshwater, usually in cool fast-flowing water. They live in the river for about two years before making their way out to sea. For the next two years they grow considerably in size before returning to the same river where they were born. I am sure you have seen footage of them battling upstream and even leaping over small waterfalls to get to their spawning areas. Salmon swim against the flow. In Matthew 5:1-12 Jesus expounds eight distinguishing traits of his children. Each of them are totally counter cultural and when we see them in a believer we are looking at someone who is swimming against the current.

Quite clearly Jesus is not pronouncing a blessing on those who are materially poor. There are many examples of wealthy individuals in the bible who are commended by God. Abraham according to Genesis 13:2 was wealthy in livestock and silver and gold and yet in Isaiah 41:8 God refers to him as “my friend.” David was fabulously wealthy and is commended as “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22). Just think about it, if Jesus was saying poor people are blessed then the worst thing in the world would be to give to them because that would deprive them of a great blessing. The poverty that Jesus is describing is in a man’s spirit not his wallet. What does poverty of spirit look like? There are a number of Greek words that are used to describe a poor person. There is the word penes which literally refers to a person who is so poor that their salary just enables a family to scrape together an existence. The word used in Matthew 5:3 is ptochos which refers to someone who is worse off. They are utterly helpless. This is the word that is used in Luke 16 to describe Lazarus covered with sores begging at the rich man’s gate. Such a person is totally dependent on the gifts of others. This is the person that Jesus has in mind. A person who is poor in spirit is acutely aware that in God’s presence we have nothing to boast about. A person who is poor in spirit knows that there is nothing in himself that qualifies him to enter heaven. They know that they are spiritually bankrupt and that they are totally dependent on God’s grace. In Luke 5 we read about how after a night of poor fishing Jesus instructed Peter to push his boat out into deeper water and let down the nets. The result was a bumper catch that threatened to sink the boat. How did Peter respond? “Yippee – nou gaan ons braai!” No! He realises that he was in the presence of majesty and in vrs 8 we read; when Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man! When you truly see God for who He is you see yourself for who you are.
Another example of poverty of spirit is found in Isaiah 6. In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. What was Isaiah’s response to this vision of the thrice holy God? “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” The person who is poor in spirit acknowledges that by nature we are guilty, vile, godless wretches – utterly without merit and deserving God’s righteous anger and judgment? The natural response to such poverty is to mourn over our sinful hearts. Before William Carey died, he gave instructions as to what should be written on his gravestone; “A wretched, poor and helpless worm, on thy kind arms I fall.” That is poverty of spirit.

The tense of the verb in this first beatitude, “theirs is the kingdom of God” is in the present tense. When you walk through a cemetery you will come across a headstone which gives the dates of birth and then the words; “entered into eternal life” and the date of death. That is wrong! Eternal life does not start for the Christian on the day we die but on the day we commit our lives as beggars into Jesus’ hands. In John 3:36 Jesus says, whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him. This is repeated in John 5:24, I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. Jesus assures the child of God that the moment we exercise faith in Christ we have eternal life (present tense). Augustus Toplady wrote the hymn, Rock of ages. One of the verses epitomises poverty of spirit.
Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die!

Blessed are those who mourn | Part 2

There is a natural progression in the order of these beatitudes. They are like a stack of dominoes that are carefully erected. When you push the first one over the rest come tumbling down. The first domino is poverty of spirit which we looked at last time. You can never mourn over sin or be gentle if you don’t see yourself for what you are before God. Having been convicted of our sin leads naturally to being contrite over our sin. Poverty of spirit leads to godly mourning. It is one thing to be spiritually poor and acknowledge it; it is another to grieve and to mourn over it.

During WW II people responded to hardship by singing a little song. “So pack up your troubles in your old kit bag and smile, smile, smile.” Very often that is how we respond to sin in our lives. We just ignore it. That is not the pathway to true blessedness in the Christian life. We would be better advised to change the ditty to “unpack your sins before God and mourn, mourn, mourn.” In the OT David serves as an example of the danger of covering up sin in our lives. In Psalm 32:3-4 he tells us, when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. By packing up his sins in his old kit bag and ignoring them led to feelings of overwhelming guilt. Far better to mourn our sin. In Psalm 32:5 David continues by saying, then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. In Psalm 38:18 David teaches the lesson that Jesus wants us to learn today, I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin. The natural response to poverty of spirit is to mourn over our sinful hearts. In Luke 18 Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector. Both of them went up to the temple. The Pharisee went to congratulate himself. In vrs 12 he says, God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get. No poverty of spirit nor spiritual mourning here. The tax collector is different. He knows that he stands as a beggar before God and cries over his sin. But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner. The truth is that there are such things as Christian tears, and too few of us ever weep them.

In 2 Corinthians 7:10 we are told that, Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death. There is only one path that leads to happiness and that is genuine sorrow over sin. The 18th century missionary to the American Indians David Brainerd, wrote the following in his journal on 18 October 1740. “In my morning devotions my soul was exceedingly melted, and bitterly mourned over my exceeding sinfulness and vileness.” Tears like this are the holy water which God is said (Psalm 56:8) to store in his bottle. Such mourners, who bewail their own sinfulness, will be comforted by the only comfort which can relieve their distress, namely the free forgiveness of God. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. This word comforted is a precious word. It is parakaleo which literally means the one called alongside to help. Who is the one that is called alongside a Christian who is grieving over sin? Our triune God. God the Father is frequently referred to in the OT as the comforter of His people. God the Son is also referred to as our comforter. When Paul describes the ongoing struggle, he has with his sinful nature he despairingly cries out “wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Then of course God the Holy Spirit is described as our comforter. In John 14, Jesus was preparing his disciples for his death. To encourage them he said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor.” Part of the Holy Spirit’s ministry is to come alongside God’s people and comfort them in their distress. He imparts us with hope. Yes, we grieve over our sin, but the Holy Spirit continually redirects us to the cross and reminds us of how our sin was dealt with and forgiven. What greater blessing is there to a Christian grieving over sin than to know that the Holy Spirit is alongside us not to accuse us but to comfort us.

Blessed are the meek | Part 3

The world despises meekness. In this third beatitude we see that God highly prizes it. What the world scoffs at the Lord values. In 2013 a painting that had laid in an attic for over a hundred years was taken out for proper authentication. It turned out that it was a Vincent Van Gogh original called “Sunset at Montmajour.” It is worth $40 million and now resides in the Van Gogh museum. It had been discarded for so long but in fact was incredibly valuable. In the same way the world is quite content to despise meekness to the attic. It is however valued very highly by the Lord.

We need to first of all understand what meekness is not before we understand what it is. Some dictionaries define the word as “quiet, gentle, and easily imposed on, submissive.” Not a great definition. The general public generate a mental picture of a meek person we conjur up images of someone who is weak, soft, wimpish and spineless. They have a wishbone instead of a backbone. The world around us have this idea of a meek person as someone so unsure of himself that he could be pushed over with a hard slap from a wet noodle! What then is meekness? The Greek word praus was used to describe wild animals that had been tamed. A wild colt kept in a paddock will kick down all the fences and resists any attempt to have someone put a saddle on its back. Such power resides in the creature but it is of no use to the owner. Once that animal has been domesticated they become useful. The colt can now be ridden and used to work. There remain as powerful as they were before but now that strength is controlled. That is the biblical definition of meekness. Controlled strength. Meekness is not the result of genetics but grace. This is why in Galatians 5 it is one of the fruit of the Spirit. No-one is born meek. It is a supernatural grace – the result of the Spirit’s work in us. How does meekness manifest itself? Firstly, the meek person is someone who responds well to personal criticism. The Greek philosopher, Aristotle defined a virtue as the mean between two excesses. For instance, courage is a virtue because it is the mean between cowardice and throwing one’s life away. Generosity is the mean between stinginess and throwing money away. Aristotle regarded meekness as a virtue because it was the mean between excessive anger and the inability to show anger at all. He describes as meek the man “who is angry on the right occasion and with the right people and at the right moment and for the right length of time.” In Numbers 12:13 Moses is described as the meekest person on the face of the earth. Moses’s leadership was being challenged by his siblings but he defends his critics before the Lord. That is not weakness. This is the same man who stood before Pharaoh and demanded that he let the children of Israel go. This is the same man who when he came down from Mt Sinai and saw his people dancing around a golden calf burned with anger. He is described as meek because he understood when it was appropriate to get angry and when it was sinful. Secondly, a meek person is one who deals gently with the failure of others. We see this in Galatians 6:1, brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. Literally the Greek text reads that we are to restore them in the spirit of meekness. The Greek word for restore is a medical word. It is never nice to see a compound fracture of an arm or leg where a piece of bone is sticking out of the flesh. Unless something is done that limb will never be useful again. It needs to be reset firmly but gently. Well when we see someone in the church who is wandering, and falling into sin what must we do? We need to gently but firmly reset the broken bone. Thirdly, meekness expresses itself in the way that we deal with the lost. In 2 Timothy 2:23-25 Paul says, don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to knowledge of the truth. Personal evangelism is not always easy. Faced with an argumentative person we can get sucked into an angry brawl. A meek person will always be gentle in the way he or she shares Christ.

This is a quote from Psalm 37:11 where David says that the meek will inherit the land. In this third beatitude Jesus expands the scope of this promise to include the whole earth. What does Jesus mean? Well Scripture must always shed light on Scripture. In Revelation 5 we have this vision of a scroll and a lamb. When the Lamb takes the scroll the four living creatures and twenty four elders break forth in praise; In vrs 9 we read, and they sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased men for God from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth. God made a promise to Abraham that he would inherit the land of Canaan. What was Abraham’s perspective on this promise? In Hebrews 11:9, 10 we read, by faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country; he lived in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. The ultimate fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham and meek people will be fulfilled in the restoration of the cosmos.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness | Part 4

When your dog loses its appetite you know that it has got a problem. You had better make an appointment with the vet. When a baby suddenly does not want to drink you know that you have a problem. Make an appointment with the doctor! When a Christian loses their appetite for God you have a problem. They need to schedule an appointment with their divine physician. The Scottish preacher Thomas Guthrie once said, “if you find yourself loving any pleasure better than your prayers, any book better than the Bible, any house better than the house of God, any table better than the Lord’s Table, any person better than Christ, any indulgence better than the hope of heaven – take alarm! This morning we come to the fourth beatitude.

When Jesus first spoke about hungering and thirsting, he was talking to people who understood these words. We have very little appreciation for real hunger and genuine thirst. If we are hungry, we raid the fridge. That is not hunger but peckishness!! When we are thirsty, we go to the tap and pour a glass of water. In NT times many people lived close to the border line between hunger and starvation. In Jesus’ day water was a precious commodity. Life had to be planned around the availability of water to stay alive. Genuine thirst drives people mad. In Psalm 63:1 David says; O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you, in a dry and weary land where there is no water. Think about the apostle Paul. Here was a man who had a number of visions, beginning with his conversion on the road to Damascus. He had another vision of a man from Macedonia pleading for help and a further encounter with Christ at Corinth (Acts 18:9-10). His greatest spiritual experience is recorded in 2 Corinthians 12 where he was caught up to the third heaven and heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. If anyone could sit back on their laurels it would have been Paul. But what was the great desire of Paul’s heart? In Philippians 3:10 he says, I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death. This is a picture of a man who is hungering and thirsting for righteousness. The scriptures use this word righteousness in two senses. The first way that it is used is to refer to the righteousness of Jesus Christ that is imputed to the person who puts their faith in Jesus Christ. In Romans 1:17 we read, for in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” A person who has Christ’s righteousness imputed to them stand before God just as if they had never sinned. To put it another way they stand before God as though they had always obeyed. The second way in which the scriptures use this word righteousness is to refer to our own personal sanctification. Which of these two forms of righteousness does Jesus have in mind. Unquestionably the second! Let us see how this word righteousness is used elsewhere in chapter 5. In vrs 20 he says, for I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. What follows are six illustrations of surpassing righteousness. This the righteousness that we must hunger and thirst for. It is this righteousness for which Robert Murray M’ Cheyne used to pray; “Lord make me as holy on earth as it is possible for a redeemed sinner to be.”

This word “filled” is an interesting word in the Greek language. The word is used in Revelation 19:21 to refer to the birds of the air feasting on the flesh of the enemies of Christ on the day of his coming. So, when Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled he means that they will be filled to the maximum – gorged. In Psalm 107:9 we read that God, satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things. I have two brothers and when we were growing up my mother always had a heavy hand when dishing up our food. She believed in fattening us up. Even after we were married whenever we visited my parents you never left without feeling full. Afrikaans people like to say “ons het onself duk geeet.” No room for more. To this day when it is my turn to cook and dish up Sue will look at the helping of food on her plate and say “you have got your mother’s hand again.” There is of course a paradox in this verse. We hunger for righteousness and are filled but immediately we hunger all the more. It is the same with righteousness. We hunger and are filled. The filling is so sweet and so rich that we want more. Let me change the image slightly. Here is a successful high jumper. They leap higher and higher and then at one competition they break the world record. You can see them leap up from the mat at the back. Their hands are raised. It is a moment of sheer exhilaration. Do they then take of their spikes and retire? No! They raise the bar another notch and then another. It is the same with hungering for righteousness. We are filled and it is wonderful but that merely increases our desire to raise the notch higher. How are our hunger levels today?

Blessed are the merciful | Part 5

The first four beatitudes line up with the last four. The first four are inner attitudes and the last four are their outward manifestation. When we have poverty of spirit and we realise that we are nothing but beggars, we will be willing to give to another beggar – we will be merciful. When we mourn over our sin, we will seek to be pure in heart. When we are meek, we will seek to be peacemakers. When we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will be willing to be persecuted for righteousness sake.

Mercy was a quality that was in short supply in the world of Jesus’ day. A Roman philosopher referred to mercy as “the disease of the soul.” The Romans glorified justice, courage, discipline and power. Mercy was regarded as a sign of weakness. When a child was born in the Roman world the father had the right of patria potestas. If he wanted the new-born to live, he held his thumb up. If he wanted the child to die, he held it down and the child was immediately drowned or exposed at the city gates. That was how the world was in Jesus’ day. Into the midst of this callousness Jesus declares that one of the characteristics of His kingdom was mercy. How is mercy expressed? First of all mercy is practically demonstrated. In James 2:14-17 we read, what good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. John Wesley used to say that if we really felt for people in need, we ought to feel it in our pockets! There is a story that is told from Wesley’s life when he came up to a group of people who were sympathizing with a man who had just lost a horse. Wesley walked up to the loudest sympathizer and said, “I am sorry five pounds. How much are you sorry.” The best illustration of mercy is of course Jesus Christ. He is the most merciful man ever to have walked this earth. He would reach out to the sick and heal them. He would not shun immoral people but rather draw them into the circle of his love and put their feet on a different path. He would befriend despised tax-collectors and turn their lives upside down. He would take the lonely and make them feel loved. He would gather the children into his arms and love them. When Jesus dealt with sinners such as the woman caught in adultery there was always mercy. His mercy found practical expression. We have already seen how callous the Roman world was in the first century. How did Christ’s followers demonstrate mercy in such a society? A man called Aristides wrote a letter to the Roman emperor Hadrian in AD 125. This is how he described Christians, “They love one another, they never fail to help widows, they save orphans from those who would hurt them. If they have something, they give freely to the man who has nothing. If they see a stranger, they take him home and are happy as though he were a real brother.” Aristides was blown away by the mercy believers demonstrated. But of course mercy expresses itself in a second way. We are also to be moved by the spiritual plight of people so that we are prompted to share the gospel of God’s grace to us in Christ. In Ephesians 2:3-5 we read, all of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. We have received mercy from God. How can we therefore fail to be moved by the plight of those who are still dead in sin? In Romans 10:1 Paul could say, brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. Paul’s concern for lost people motivated him to walk across the Roman Empire to share the good news of Christ. This is what merciful people do.

Of course, we must not think that by being merciful to others is the way to be saved. This is not what the bible teaches. The very best we do is like filthy rags before God. The glory of the gospel message is that God sets His merciful grace on sinners who acknowledge their sad condition. In 1 Timothy 1:13, Paul could testify, even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. We don’t show mercy so that God will smile on us one day. To be saved we must turn to Christ and believe that He has dealt with our sin at Calvary. What then does Jesus mean when he promises mercy to the merciful? There is a blessing that flows into the life of a merciful person in the here and now. What does Solomon say in Proverbs 11:17? A kind man benefits himself, but a cruel man brings trouble on himself. Again, in Proverbs 28:27 we are told, he who gives to the poor will lack nothing, but he who closes his eyes to them receives many curses. In Acts 20:35 Paul records a saying of Jesus that is not found in the gospels. “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Blessed are the pure in heart | Part 6

Those people with heart conditions need to make regular trips to the cardiologist. An ECG will be taken and compared with the last one to see whether they are significant changes. If there are then you will have to be booked in for an angiogram for further investigation and if another artery is blocked, then a stent may have to be inserted or even further surgery. Well in the sixth beatitude Jesus tells us that God is a spiritual cardiologist and although we may be able to fool those around us, we can’t fool God because He sees our heart. Happy indeed is the person who can join David and pray Psalm 139:23-24, search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

In Genesis 5:21-24 we read, when Enoch had lived 65 years, he became the father of Methuselah. And after he became the father of Methuselah, Enoch walked with God 300 years and had other sons and daughters. Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away. In these few verses Enoch is twice said to have walked with God. When we think about Enoch we think of his miraculous exit from this world. He did not experience death. The bible is not as concerned with how Enoch left this world as it is with his faithful life in this world. Would it not be great if the same could be said about us one day? That we would best be remembered not for our careers nor so much for our spiritual giftedness but that we were men and women who walked with God. When the OT was translated into the Greek language the phrase in Genesis 5 that described Enoch as walking with God was translated, “Enoch pleased God.” The two phrases mean exactly the same thing. To walk with God is to please God. What then pleases God? In Psalm 24:3, 4 we read a good description, who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. Who are the people who will see God? Those with clean hands and pure hearts. That is what impresses God. In Psalm 51:6 David says it again, surely you desire truth in the inner parts. A good definition of hypocrisy is skin deep holiness and there is nothing more loathsome in God’s sight. He longs to see hearts that are pure. Mark Twain once said; “we’re like the moon. We have a dark side we don’t want anybody to see.” Charles Spurgeon walked a better road when he said, “you may write my life in the clouds! I have nothing to hide.” Here was a man who truly sought to cultivate purity of heart. There are times when it is easier to walk with God than others. In times of revival, where God is feared and His word is honoured, walking with God is easier than in morally depraved times. But what was the moral and spiritual climate of the world when Enoch walked with God? To answer that question we must turn to the book of Jude 14,15. “Enoch, the seventh from Adam, prophesied about these men: `See, the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of his holy ones to judge everyone, and to convict all the ungodly of all the ungodly acts they have done in the ungodly way, and of all the harsh words ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” What is the word that keeps on recurring in these verses? It is the word, ungodly. Enoch was not privileged to live during times of revival, when public morals would be high and where men and women would be spiritually responsive. No, Enoch, like us dwelt in ungodly times. And in those ungodly times he is said to have walked with God for 300 years.

They will see God now through the eyes of faith and throughout all eternity they will behold His glory. This is why Jesus can confidently declare, happy are the holy. In Hebrews 12:14 we are charged; make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. Jesus is saying that those who desire to be holy are rewarded by being admitted into the very presence of God. The last words of the great bible commentator Matthew Henry were, “life spent in fellowship with God is the pleasantest life in the world.” Happy indeed are those who desire holiness. But of course, this verse does not only apply to the here and now. It also points us to eternity. When we read the genealogy in Genesis 5 it sounds like a stuck gramophone record, and then he died, and then he died, and then he died. This phrase is like a drumbeat in a funeral march. But when it comes to Enoch, we read in vrs 20, altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. A short life by his families’ standards. Then he was no more, because God took him away. He did not experience death. What is the lesson we learn from this? Simply this. It is not how long you live that matters so much as how you live. Compared to his predecessors and his offspring Enoch lived for a short space of time. But in that time, he walked with God and God took him away. He saw God. This exhilarating prospect has warmed the heart of God’s people down through the ages. In Psalm 17:15 David declares; and I–in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.

Blessed are the peacemakers | Part 7

The twentieth century was hailed by many as the beginning of a millennium of peace and prosperity, but this proved to be empty idealism. In WWI, believed to be the war to end all wars, 30 million people died. In a few decades the world was caught up in a second global conflict that claimed 90 million lives. In 1946 the United Nations was formed with the stated aim of having succeeding generations free from the scourge of war. Since that time there has not been one day of peace on the earth. Billy Graham once said that if someone was sent from Mars to report earth’s major business, he would in all fairness have to say that its chief industry was war. John MacArthur wryly describes peace as that brief glorious moment in history when everybody stops to reload. It is into this situation that Jesus speaks this seventh beatitude.

It has well been said, “man is not at peace with his fellow man because he is not at peace with himself. He is not at peace with himself because he is not at peace with God.” That is where the glory of the Christian gospel comes in. The death of Christ in the place of sinners has broken down not only the barriers between God and man but the barriers which divided men from each other. It is only when a sinner comes to the foot of the cross and bends the knee in humble submission that peace can flood their hearts. In Romans 5:1 Paul can confidently exclaim; therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. How then can we act as peacemakers in this world? Firstly, if people lack peace because of their own wicked hearts then surely the most important function of God’s Peace Corps is to get involved in the work of evangelism. This is what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:17-20, therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! 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. Notice that Paul does not limit this responsibility to be Christ’s ambassadors to preachers only. We must all play our part. The second responsibility of God’s Peace Corps is to be a praying people. Hear the apostle Paul’s plea in 1 Timothy 2:1-4, I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone– for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. Are we a praying people? The third responsibility of God’s Peace Corps is more practical. In Philippians 4:2, 3 Paul writes, I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord. Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel. If you are out of fellowship with a fellow believer because of an argument the most natural thing in the world is to avoid them. If you see them walking down the street towards you, you will be inclined to cross the road to the other side and pretend not to have noticed them. You do not want to greet them. Avoid that temptation. Peacemakers want reconciliation. Peacemakers will go to people that they are at odds with and seek to resolve the issue. In fact, peacemakers will even go further than this. If they see two other Christian brethren who are out of sorts with one another and walking on opposite sides of the street they will grab each of them by one hand and seek to bring reconciliation. This is exactly what Paul encouraged the Philippian church to do.

In Ephesians 5:1 Paul urges us to be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children. We are called upon to walk in the Lord’s footsteps. And those are footsteps of peace. In Philippians 4:9 and Romans 16:20 the Lord is referred to as the God of peace. If we are His sons, then we will be men and women of peace as well. In Hebrews 12:14 we are urged; make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord. Our responsibility is to make every effort to live at peace. We may be aware that we are out of fellowship with another believer. When we come walking down the street they cross over to the opposite side and pretend to have not seen us. We are to go to that person and lovingly address the issue. If the issue is resolved peace prevails and fellowship is restored. But if the other person refuses to respond to our approach and insists that nothing is wrong, what then? I find an important principle tucked away in Romans 12:18, if it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. All you can do is be faithful to what God expects of you. You cannot be held responsible for the other person’s reaction. God holds you accountable for your actions.

Blessed are those who are persecuted | Part 8

These beatitudes end on a surprising note. Blessed are those who are persecuted. Why do you think Jesus ends with this beatitude? The extent to which we live the first seven beatitudes is the extent to which we will experience the last. The range of suffering that we ought to expect as Christians is made very clear in vrs 11, insults, persecution and slander. If we never experience any opposition whatsoever we need to take a careful look at our lives. Perhaps our witness is not as bright as it should be. In John 15:20 Jesus declared; no servant is greater than his master. If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. DL Moody once said; “if the world has nothing to say against you, beware lest Jesus Christ has nothing to say for you.”

Why then will we endure persecution? We are very clearly given the answer in vrs 10; blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness. The apostle Paul says exactly the same thing in 2 Timothy 3:12 when he soberly warns Timothy, in fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. This of course begs the question, if righteousness involves being merciful, pure and peaceable, why would anyone want to persecute that? In John 3:20-21 Jesus says, everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God. Either people will hate the light in us and seek to destroy it or else they will be drawn to it. Mark Twain once wrote; “few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” There was a man in ancient Athens called Aristides the Just who was banished from the city. One person who voted against him did so only because he was tired of hearing him always called just. Why would we call someone who suffers for righteousness, blessed? Firstly, we can rejoice because persecution identifies us with Jesus Christ. After the apostles had been flogged on the orders of the Jewish Sanhedrin for preaching the gospel, they walked away rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name (Acts 5:41). The second reason why we can rejoice in persecution is that it also identifies us with the prophets who have gone before us. Jesus tells us in vrs 12 that we can rejoice and be glad . . . for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. In Hebrews 11:36-38 we read a massive catalogue of suffering. We think of Jeremiah who was whipped and mocked and thrown in prison. We read about Isaiah who was sawn in two. A third reason why we can indeed rejoice in the face of suffering is also found in vrs 12, rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven. We may lose everything on earth, but we shall inherit everything in heaven. In order to rejoice in the suffering of persecution we have to believe that, that very suffering enlarges our reward in heaven. Jesus promises His followers in Matthew 19:29, and everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. The missionary, Jim Elliot who was martyred 40 years ago uttered those memorable words; “he is no fool who gives what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.” He lost his life, but he gained heaven.


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