1st Lent 03/10/19—Highland—Meute
Micah 6: 1-8; Matthew 5: 1-12
Pearl: The wide girth of blessedness intended by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Function: To correct the common notions about the Beatitudes and to proclaim that Jesus meant that “God’s world” was for everyone, no matter whom, even the “hopeless blessables” to borrow a phrase from Dallas Willard (The Divine Conspiracy).
How great is the gospel of Jesus Christ? How vast and powerful is it?
- We tend to make a career of underestimating the impact of the Kingdom of Heaven Among Us. Consider the times when you think that someone is beyond hope. Consider all of the people who don’t have much hope. The kingdom of heaven among us is precisely for them!
- In his “sermon on the mount” Jesus revealed that the kingdom of heaven was for all of those people who are on the margins—and for the average—for the common people.
- Usually we interpret the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:1-12 as being the way people need to be in order to possess the kingdom and have a relationship with God. Because of this many feel that a relationship with God is not for them because they are not the kind of people who are meek, or mournful, or poor. They think that they are excluded because the church has often sanctified these characteristics as marking those who are followers of Christ.
- From the Beatitudes many think the truly blessed are the meek, the poor, the mournful, the persecuted, and the insulted. Jesus was not advocating that these are all of the personal characteristics that we should all strive for. Not at all! Jesus was speaking to a cross section of people, a typical crowd in his days that were made up of everyone. His point was to say: “The Kingdom of Heaven Among Us is for every one of you!”
- It is for people beyond even the Scribes, Pharisees, and the ones everyone thought to whom almost exclusively belonged.
- Jesus shared a radical message in his day. His good news of the kingdom of heaven among us is not just for the religious elite. It is for all of the “hopeless blessables” (Willard).
- A man was convicted of a rape which he did not commit. He ended up going to jail for 6 years. After being released from jail he was labeled “a convicted sex offender” making it difficult to find a job and a place to live and be accepted into a community. He found a job and a community to live in. Yet the people of the community, from the local court judge to the local police force to many of the parents of the community even on down to the local church minister, did not want this man around. They made life difficult for him even creating a law which made it illegal for him to drive on certain roads where he needed to drive to get to work. Eventually a sympathetic lawyer represented him and was able to prove that he was unjustly convicted. The “victim” went to court to admit that she originally lied and she felt she had to come forward to do justice. He was removed from the “sex offender” list. But the town still did not want him around. They didn’t want him around so much so that someone shot him in the head killing him.
When the “hopeless blessables” among us include a “sex offender,” many find it difficult to see the kingdom extending to even these ones! But that is just it. Jesus didn’t agree that the blessed were those with the most “glittering images” of his day—the wealthy, the best educated, the most popular, the most “spiritual.” His point was to say that the kingdom of heaven was for even the “least of these.” It was for those on the margins—the average—the common people—the ex-cons. This has a lot to do with why the Pharisees and Scribes didn’t like Jesus much at all. They were the “glittering ones.”
“Religious people” through the ages have narrowly defined who are the “blessed.”
- Prior to Jesus, through the prophets, God sought to correct this and so Micah said the Lord doesn’t want sacrifices and whole burnt offerings. What the Lord wanted of his people was for them “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with their God” (Micah 6:8).
“Doing justice” is “working for the establishment of equity for all, especially the powerless” (Limburg, Interpretation, p. 192).
Blessed are you, no matter who you are, through your connection to Jesus.
The Beatitudes help us to see how good the good news really is! Do you know how good the good news is? That is a core theme of my preaching: the surpassing goodness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
- What makes the “good news” so good and so “other-worldly” and so “godly” is that it is for everyone without any distinctions. This was Jesus’ point in the Beatitudes and really of the whole Sermon on the Mount.
- It is for everyone and it can help and transform anyone!
- That is how good the gospel is! That is how powerful the gospel is!
- All are invited into God’s blessedness through friendship with Jesus.
- When Jesus sat down among the crowd there was a cross-section of people with him. There were the usual people who everyone considered “blessed” and there was everyone else. Jesus’ point was to say that “blessedness” was meant for everyone, barring none!
- Jesus’ world, God’s world, turns upside down the conventional thinking of the day.
- Jesus blew the minds of his listeners when he said that the poor were blessed. They would have looked to certain people, the religious elite, and the ones with the “glittering images” as those who were blessed. Jesus turned that upside down. He wanted everyone to see that anyone was blessed through being connected to God’s reign by being connected to him and to his way.
- This is why the Scribes and the teachers of the law, the Sadducees and the Pharisees all had major problems with him. They hated Jesus for associating with so many others and for not being impressed with them.
- Jesus associated with “those others” because the good news was for everyone! One time he said, “Those who are healthy need no physician but those who are sick.” He associated with those who were not good company, who corrupted good morals, because the good news was meant for them as well. This is why the crowds loved Jesus.
Who would you include in a list of those who are by no means “blessed?” Who are the people you would consider are far from God’s grace and favor?
- God’s world is meant for and intended for all of these people as well. Jesus loves all of them as much as he loves those we would consider the “blessed.”
- Jesus seriously upset the sensibilities of the people he spoke to and ministered to during his life. By telling a story which put a Samaritan in a good light was extremely offensive to the typical Jew.
- Dallas Willard wrote in his book The Divine Conspiracy on the radical nature of the good news intended for everyone. He wrote:
- “We must see from our heart that:
- Blessed are the physically repulsive,
- Blessed are those who smell bad,
- The twisted, misshapen, deformed,
- The too big, too little, too loud,
- The bald, the fat, and the old—for they are all celebrated in the party of Jesus” (p. 123).
- Willard further wrote, “The [blessedness] condition of life sought for by human beings through the ages is attained in the quietly transforming friendship of Jesus” (p. 124).
- “Even the moral disasters will be received by God as they come to rely on Jesus, count on him, and make him their companion in his kingdom. Murderers and child-molesters. The brutal and the bigoted. Drug lords and pornographers. War criminals and sadists. Terrorists. The perverted and the filthy and the filthy rich…
- Can’t we feel some sympathy for Jesus’ contemporaries, who huffed at him, ‘This man is cordial to sinners, and even eats with them!’ Sometimes I feel I don’t really want the kingdom to be open to such people. But it is. That is the heart of God. And, as Jonah learned from his experience preaching to those wretched Ninevites, we can’t shrink [God] down to our size” (p. 124).
- By thinking of these lowest of the low in our common thinking, it helps us to understand what Jesus taught and lived. We can truly sympathize with the Scribes and the Pharisees who loathed certain people just like we loathe certain people today. How many of these people do we want to be in our church family?
- Jesus point is that the good news is for them too! Any who reach out to Jesus, no matter who they are, no matter what they have done, are included in “God’s world.”
- The gospel of Jesus Christ changes all of these people. It changes all of us. It is that powerful, that capable!
- Don’t underestimate the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ!
God’s new-life-gospel-way is meant for everyone without distinction, even those we deem far from blessedness.
- In the midst of a scathing rant against Jerusalem the prophet Jeremiah asked the question, “Can Ethiopians change their skin or leopards their spots?” He answered his own question “Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil” (Jeremiah 13:23).
- Centuries later Jesus basically said, by my power, the power of the kingdom of heaven in your midst, you can change and you can do good who are accustomed to doing evil!
Jesus did not teach that we should aspire to poverty, or to hunger, or to persecution, or to weakness, or that we should be powerless. Through his Sermon on the Mount Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven is meant for anyone and everyone. No matter one’s condition in life, no matter one’s origin, no matter one’s IQ, God’s world is meant for you. This is why it is called “good news.” Through friendship with Jesus, anyone can enter into God’s reign of heaven among us.