(Please read Matthew 5:1-12, NIV.)
Message: The “Beatitudes” are Jesus’ plan for a happy and blessed life after major adjustments have been made.
In his book Daddy’s Home, Greg Johnson told this story:
“The first day of family vacation on the Oregon coast, we slept in and headed down to the beach around 9:00 am, looking for washed-up treasure: a perfect sand dollar, one with no chips or cracks. Though we searched hard, we were skunked. The next day the same thing happened – nada.
“On the third day, I saw a woman with a bag full of shells – many whole sand dollars – waling up the beach.
‘Where’d you find all those shells?’
‘Down the beach a mile or two.’
“Aha! I wasn’t going far enough! Then I realized, Someone’s already beat me to the good shells. But if I get up earlier, I’ll find the treasure.
“Next morning, we arose at the crack of dawn. After walking almost a mile down the beach, we’d found only one or two. But a hundred yards farther on, we hit the mother lode: a dozen whole sand dollars in one 30-foot patch. We continued on, eyes fixed on the sand – and collected more than 125 perfect sand dollars!
“Later, during my quiet time, the lesson hit me: We wanted treasure. We got up earlier and traveled farther – and exceeded our goals beyond our wildest dreams.”
<Quoted from “Men of Integrity,” July/August 2002 edition, August 18th devotion.>
We’re continuing today on the subject of blessing, something we all want to experience. We have often prayed for the Lord’s blessing, but do we often consider how we must work to be a blessing. It is grace, but grace is not without effort on our part.
- High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Spiritual Poverty (3).
- High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Mourning (4).
- High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Meekness (5).
- High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Righteous Ambition (6).
Our attitude is selfish ambition. The sin nature causes us to crave things for selfish reasons. Though that part of us is crucified with Christ after we’re saved, our human nature
can cause us to fail to have righteous ambition.
We can fail by giving up too soon: Jesus appreciated those who showed their faith by not giving up at the first setback. In Luke 5:18-26 we see how the friends of the paralyzed man broke a hole in the roof to lower their friend to Jesus. He commended their faith and healed their friend. In Luke 11:5-13 Jesus illustrated the benefit of perseverance with the parable of the man who banged on the door until his friend answered.
We can fail by accepting false ideas of what God’s will is. When we are physically hungry and thirsty we don’t always seek food & drink that is good for us. Likewise, when we have a craving to do God’s will we sometimes accept things as true which are not.
We can fail by not holding out for all the blessings God planned to give us. Sometimes we’re too easily satisfied; our motivation is lost though there is work yet to be done for the king (see Isaiah 55:2).
The Jesus beatitude is righteous ambition. RIGHTEOUSNESS is a huge biblical concept that includes moral purity, justice, equity, obedience to God, holiness, wholeness, consecrated to God. Remember these beatitudes are God-given in grace, not by human effort; so RIGHTEOUSNESS must not be according to a merely human standard. It must not be a legalism.
The adjustment is the experience of hungering and thirsting for righteousness. This describes a state of spiritual maturity that is so integral and so intense that it becomes as regular and real a craving as physical HUNGER and THIRST. This is a powerful analogy because HUNGER AND THIRST are some of our strongest motivations. When you truly feel these, you can think of little else until they are satisfied. We may have rarely felt this urgency, but it’s real.
Jesus is our example of this level of maturity. He said, “MY FOOD IS TO DO THE WILL OF HIM WHO SENT ME AND TO FINISH HIS WORK.” (John 4:34)
The reward is being filled with righteousness. One symbol Jesus used for the Kingdom of God is that of a feast; the ultimate experience of getting HUNGER and THIRST satisfied. (See Matthew 8:11; 22:1-10; Luke 22:30; John 6:26-59 for examples.) Biblically, to be FILLED is to be satisfied but not exhausting the unlimited resources of God. As we do with natural hunger and thirst, we do not stay satisfied, but regain our appetite. There should likewise be cycles of satisfaction and appetite in our spiritual life. In order to receive a satisfying level of righteousness, we must trust God fully & exclusively.
- High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Mercy (7).
Our attitude is vengeance. We can couch it in legal and moral-sounding terms, but revenge is never a God-approved motive. The urge to avenge is most often a product of a person’s sin or human natures. It’s a worldly solution that simply leads to more problems (i.e., the death penalty.) Rules are not made to be broken, but real justice demands the possibility of exceptions and adjustments. The most important thing is that the punishment fits the crime. The most important source of information is the context in which the offense occurred: are there any extenuating circumstances. This is NOT making excuses!
When we are hurt, feel wronged, or experience loss, we naturally want someone to blame and someone to join us in our hurt. The sinful nature can cause us to overreact vengefully, escalating the conflict.
The Jesus beatitude is mercy. In these situations we are keen to talk about “rights,” especially when we’re looking out for ourselves, but there’s more at stake here than that. Mercy is not getting what we deserve, but what we need. The law and mercy are not opposites, but two sides of the same coin. Indeed, it is impossible to have one without the other. The law moderates acts of vengeance (distorted sense of justice), but mercy moderates them even further. The desire for mercy is a motive for keeping the law and encouraging others to do likewise.
The adjustment is empathy. Mercy is possible only by taking the other person’s place. It is sympathy and empathy; an emotional exercise of imagination. Since mercy is not usually part of our human nature, it must be built into our spiritual nature by God’s Holy Spirit and a study of the word; it is also God’s gift.
The reward is the experience of being shown mercy. Let’s face it – we are all going to be in a situation where we need to receive mercy. Despite all our plans and good intentions, circumstances change and we make a mistake or somehow find ourselves in the wrong. In that moment we don’t need to have the book thrown at us, we need people who understand and are willing to forgive. Being shown mercy helps us move toward forgiveness and restoration; closure of the offense.
All of that is on a human scale – how much more we need mercy from God! Fortunately, He has acted in mercy toward us in Jesus Christ & forgiveness of our sins.
6. High Altitude Attitude Adjustment – Purity (8).
Our attitude is impurity. God’s standard is simple: “Be holy even as I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). Unfortunately, it’s also impossible: “There is no one holy like the Lord; there is no one besides you; there is no Rock like our God.” (1 Samuel 2:2).
If God were to leave us there it would be a very unjust situation. Instead, He has provided us a means to become pure again; the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
The Jesus beatitude is purity in heart. Purity is obviously a moral state; to be free from sin. When God forgives us, He cleanses us from all sin. He restores our purity. (See 1 John 1:9.)
Jesus attaches a qualifier to this: IN HEART. What does that mean? One Bible scholar, named Wheeler Robinson, counted 851 uses of the word HEART in the Old Testament. One-third of these referred to the personality as a whole, the remainder to the emotions. This acknowledges the fact that purity also speaks to our motives, our priorities. When God is truly first in our daily living, we can be said to be pure.
As well as moral and spiritual blamelessness, purity also means to be singularly devoted to God, not allowing sin or self or the world to distract us. James 1:6-9 identifies the peril of allowing doubt to distract us from being whole-heartedly devoted to God.
The adjustment is repentance. In this life we are going to make mistakes. We do not think or behave perfectly. What’s necessary is a means of restoring an offender when an offense has been made. The means of restoration God has provided is repentance. When we are guilty of sin, we confess it to God and ask for His forgiveness. As we’ve seen, God shows us MERCY and forgives us completely. This leads to a cleansing of the guilt of that sin, restoring our purity.
So when we say, “Nobody’s perfect,” that’s only true in a practical sense. When God forgives us, He makes us perfect in His eyes. And who are you to argue with God? Purity is a gift from God and we need to see it as precious, guarding it by resisting temptation and doing right.
The reward is the experience of seeing God. Seeing God is a very big topic in the Bible. After crossing the Red Sea, the Hebrews were afraid to see God because He is so holy, so pure, that they were sure He would destroy them on sight. To see God was to be granted a special honor. Since holiness is part of God’s nature, He will not tolerate any unholy or impure thing in His presence. That means he must purify us, making us holy before we can live with Him in heaven.
The ultimate outcome to this matter of purity and of life in general is to SEE GOD. This means to be invited into His presence, to live with Him for all eternity. In this life we also SEE GOD, but our vision of Him is veiled, indirect. We see or sense God in nature, in the Bible, in the Church, and in prayer; all through the Holy Spirit. This is what the PURE IN HEART wanted all along! Psalm 24:3-4 expresses this truth beautifully: WHO MAY ASCEND THE HILL OF THE LORD? WHO MAY STAND IN HIS HOLY PLACE? HE WHO HAS CLEAN HANDS AND A PURE HEART.
In her book, Teacher’s Touch, Marlene LeFever told a story that I think illustrates how blessings can sometimes emerge from difficult times. They are completely invisible in the moment and may take time to unfold, but they are God’s gifts just the same.
Fifty years ago a church in Philadelphia watched as three nine-year old boys were baptized and joined the church. Not long after that, unable to continue because of dwindling membership, the church sold their building and disbanded.
Years later, one of the three boys was doing research on the church and looked up the record of his baptism in the denominational archives. Near the record of his baptism someone had written, “It has not been a good year for your church. We have lost 27 members. Three joined and they were only children.”
Let’s pause for a moment and imagine how the person who wrote that note felt at that moment. He certainly sounds discouraged doesn’t he? Ready to give up? Remember, the church folded shortly after this note was written. The writer must’ve voted for quitting.
What happened to those three boys? Here’s where we see the blessing in disguise. One of them was Dick White, who became a missionary. Another was Bart Newman, who became a professor of theology at a seminary in Africa. The third was Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo, a professor at Eastern College and seminary, a man of legendary proportions in American Baptist life.
<”Men of Integrity,” July/August issue, July 9 devotion.>
This is an example of a delayed, but great blessing. Can we trust God to bring blessing to our lives even when we can’t see in the moment what He is doing?