THE BLESSED PERSECUTED

Each of Jesus’ beatitudes are counter-intuitive in that they pronounce blessings on ones that we don’t usually think of as blessed.  But the last one is particularly counter the way we would normally think of things.  Remember in each of these blessings, Jesus isn’t so much telling us that we ought to develop the different traits as he is looking at those who are poor in spirit or mourning and grieving in life and telling them they are blessed, loved and accepted by God.  But look at the last of these statements, the one that would have caused the most confusion in the group.  “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Have you ever been persecuted because of your faith in Christ?  Perhaps closer to home for most of us would be, have you been insulted or had bad things said about you because of your teaching things you believe the Bible teaches?  Likely most people who are devoted to Christ have had some form of such persecution, even though we would say that it is slight compared to what those early Christians went through or what many go through in different parts of the world today because of their faith in Christ.  How do you react when you have something ugly or mean said about you when you are trying your best to do what is right and good?  How do you handle it if you learn that someone at church has started a rumor about you that has spread among many and that it is obvious some are believing it and seem to be relishing the thought rather than coming to your defense?  It is extremely easy to get angry, to feel sorry for oneself and cry out, “why me?”  I think of the picture painted by the Book of Revelation of the Christians who had been murdered for their faith in Christ and John pictures them under the altar, crying out, “How long O Lord, holy and true, do you not avenge our blood on those who dwell upon the earth?”  God’s answer to them was to wait for the proper time.  In the next chapter they are pictured as being dressed in white robes and the Lord is leading them by everlasting fountains of water and God wipes all tears from their eyes.  I can certainly understand and feel with those saints who were struggling with their persecution and untimely death for their faith, can’t you?

Yet Jesus looked at these kinds of situations and declares, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.”  It should stand out that when one lives a life of purity of heart, mercy and peacemaking, it won’t usually lead to everyone talking about what a great person you are.  Instead, such a life of striving to help and make things better in the world too often leads to resentment and even revenge.  Jesus said, when such persecution happens, you are blessed and the kingdom of Heaven belongs to you.  God’s kingdom is the reign of God as King in our life.  Later in chapter 6:33 he told us to seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.  When we seek the reign of God in our life it leads to living righteously in the world.  But why would people persecute the person who is trying to do good, right and be a helpful person in the world?  Why would one living such a life have their motives questioned and be attacked so often by others who share their faith in Christ?

Growing up on a farm back in Alabama I saw something happen many times that was amazing to me as a child.  If a mother hen had lots of little chickens to hatch and she had a large brood of little chickens, it would often be the case that one of the chickens was different.  They would often be a different color from the others, and usually different from the mother hen.  Every time this happened unless you removed that little chicken that was different from the others, the mother hen would peck it to death.  The first time I remember seeing that happen I was totally confused and remember asking my mother why the hen would kill that little chicken.  Her answer stood out with me through the years.  “That little chicken was different from the others and she couldn’t stand for any of her chicks to be different from the rest.”  If life, even if the difference among people is good, beneficial and for the betterment of society, we still tend not to like the one who is different and attack them in whatever way we can.  Jesus said, when you live the life He calls us to live we would have such persecution.  Later the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that “all those who live godly in this present world will suffer persecution.”

We may cry out, “It isn’t fair” but the fact is, life is seldom fair.  So, how are we to react as followers of Jesus when persecution, insults and evil gossip goes on about us?  First, if the gossip or evil said has truth to it, our reaction should be to humbly repent of the sin with the will to change our life.  I’m sure when David had Nathan the prophet say to him that he was the man that had done the wrong and mistreated his neighbor, David felt persecuted.  But his reaction wasn’t to defend himself, but to declare, “Against you, you only have I sinned and committed this great iniquity, O God.”  Second, if the persecution is false and we didn’t do anything wrong, then, forgive the culprit as Jesus did for those who nailed him to the cross.  In Romans 12 Paul challenged us to overcome evil with good and not to seek revenge when mistreated but to submit to God who says, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay says the Lord.”  But the huge challenge from Jesus is to look at the wrong done to us and “rejoice and be glad.”  Why in the world would we rejoice over such abuse?  Because our reward is great in heaven and because that is the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before us.

Nothing the world does in the form of persecution or mistreatment can compare with the tremendous blessings that God will bring us when we get to heaven.  Plus, it is often the case that many great blessings from the Lord come to us in this life.  Overcoming such hurt will open doors for us to be helpful to others who are going through times of hurt, disappointment and mistreatment in the world.  Over in I Peter 2 he discussed times of persecution that had now fallen on the church.  They were suffering and many were terribly discouraged because of it.  Peter said, “But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God.  To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.”  That is our calling before God.  When we handle our struggles in the same way it is a powerful witness for God that may well lead even the persecutors to faith as well.

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THE BLESSED PEACEMAKERS

When was the last time you met someone and thought to yourself that you knew them, yet they were far too young to be the person you first thought they were?  Recently we had a young man visit us at the church where I preach and when I saw him, I immediately thought, “He sure looks familiar” yet I knew I didn’t really know him.  But he looked a ton like a man I’ve known for years and even more like this man’s son that I have known for less years, but still for some time.  When he came out after the worship time and greeted me with a huge smile, he introduced himself and said his granddad had told him to look for me and tell me who he was.  Suddenly, it made all kinds of sense why he looked familiar, even though I hadn’t known him before at all.  He looked so much like his dad and granddad that it was uncanny.  His smile was so much like his granddads smile that it was amazing.

This reminds me of Jesus’ statement “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”  Probably many of the people in the crowd that day would have thought the whole idea of being a peacemaker was strange in a time when they were under Roman control.  If they looked around and saw Roman soldiers marching through the streets like they owned the place and often mistreating the people who had lived there all their lives, it would feel more natural to hear the teacher say, “Blessed are the warriors who will go out and fight the enemies of Israel to deliver us from the Roman powers.”  I wonder if Simon the Zealot was in the crowd that day.  Jesus would later choose him to be one of the twelve ambassadors for his kingdom.  Yet a Zealot was a hater of Rome who wanted to see and be a part of the overthrow of their empire.  If he was, it must have moved him to degree that he would change his loyalty, even though as an apostle he still wore the title of Simon the Zealot.  If you think about the land of Israel where they were, there has never been a time when they had peace for an extended period.  It has always been the case that there were enemies who wished to destroy them as a nation.  But the environment didn’t change the fundamental principles of God on how we should live.

Peace is so tied to God that he is called the God of peace, Jesus is called the Prince of Peace and the message of Christ is called the Gospel of peace.  When we have the Holy Spirit in our lives, one of the aspects of the fruit of the Spirit is peace.  Paul said in Romans 14:17-19, “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit, because anyone who serves Christ in this way is pleasing to God and receives human approval.  Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”  When James the Lord’s brother wrote the book that bares his name he explained that the wisdom that comes from above is first of all peaceable.

But how are those who follow Christ to be peacemakers in the world?  It has never been the case that peace was obtained through political or military means.  There can’t be peace among people when the people are at war with themselves or with God.  There must be an inner peace before it can be passed on to others.  In the world it seems that people think that the way to peace is either more policemen or to take away all the weapons in the world so that they can’t hurt each other.  But as long as Satan reigns in the hearts of people there will be war, murder, and all types of abuse among the people.  Think of the fact the first murder that took place in the world was Cain killing his brother Abel when there were no weapons as we would know them.  But hate, jealousy and envy can lead to the efforts to destroy those whom we blame for our problems whether there are mighty weapons or simply a rock we can pick up in the yard.  Strangely, the religions of the world often plant the hatred into the hearts of those who follow them, for anyone that doesn’t accept their beliefs as the only right way.

No matter how many times people who kill and hurt others, immediately afterward cry out the name of God, you can be certain they aren’t following the one God described in the teachings of Jesus.  He is the one that made the law to begin with that whoever sheds a person’s blood would have their blood shed by other people.  Jesus would turn the tables completely around by saying to us to love those who hate us and do good to those who spitefully use us.  He challenged us to pray for our enemies and be like the Father in heaven who sends his rain and sunshine on the good and evil.

If I want to be blessed by the Lord, then I must be one that is a peacemaker in the world.  But how?  The best way in the world to produce peace among people is to share with them the gospel of peace.  That Gospel or good news of Jesus and His kingdom is powerful and can drive the sin from our lives to give us peace with God and peace in our own lives.  Paul described this change in us as being reconciled to God to becoming his friends all over again.  He then said that those who are reconciled to God are given a ministry of reconciliation to carry that same good news to others.  When we tell them of Jesus and his great invitation to “Come unto me all who are weary and burdened down and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke and learn of me for I am gentle and lowly of heart and you will find rest unto your soul for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

When we become such peacemakers among people, we are blessed by looking like God and are then called the “children of God.”  I’ve had people say to me “you look like your dad” or “you look like your granddad.”  The truth is that I don’t think I look physically much like either one but likely have habits and expressions that remind them of either.  When we do the job of carrying the gospel of peace to the world, we look like the Lord.  What an amazing blessing it is to be seen as God’s child in the world.

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THE BLESSED PURE IN HEART

It was quite common in my growing up to hear someone say, “well, bless your heart” and then move on to either correct or excuse something that had been done.  I’ve tried to imagine being there the day Jesus was delivering the Sermon on Mount and to imagine what I would have thought when he blessed those with a pure heart.  As with all the beatitudes he designated what the blessing would be for the pure in heart by saying “They shall see God.”  Do you suppose that many of those listening to him felt he was describing them when he talked about the pure in heart?  I would guess that most were thinking, that can’t be me that he is talking about.  We might have looked around to see some precious person we have known through the years that is especially kind and caring toward others and thought maybe they would fit the bill, but not us.  What do you picture when you think of having a pure heart anyway?

The word “pure” has the basic meaning of being unmixed.  It is in its true sense when we purchase a product that says, “Pure Honey” or “Pure Olive Oil”.  The maker is telling us that there isn’t any by-products added to it to make it better or change it in anyway.  It may well have been the case that some of those listening to Jesus on hearing this blessing were reminded of the song found in Psalms 24 that they may have been taught from childhood.  In verses 3-4 it said, “Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?  Who may stand in his holy place?  The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol or swear to a false god.”  When our heart or soul is mixed in its loyalty trying to worship some idol as god along with the God of the Universe our hearts are defiled.  Jesus was giving the concept of a pure heart when he was tempted by the devil in the wilderness and declared, “you shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.”  A pure heart is the total opposite of the notion, “Give God a place in your life or in your heart.”  God isn’t looking for a place in our life.  He is longing for our total commitment to him.  He longs for us to give our hearts fully to him.

In Titus 1:15-16 Paul said to his young friend and fellow preacher, “To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure.  In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.  They claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him.  They are detestable, disobedient and unfit for doing anything good.”  Paul is definitely focused on the heart that is pure and not just the outside actions because he notes that when our hearts are pure, it changes how we see everything else in life. One with a pure heart, sees the world through the eyes of purity.  When the heart is defiled we see everything as defiled and evil.  It is somewhat like looking at the world through glasses.  If your glasses are clean it changes how you see everything else.  But if your glasses are scratched and dirty everything you look at is distorted.  You have been around people, I’m sure, who can see something immoral or filthy in the most innocent person or action imaginable.  When we have such an impure heart, we may claim to know God but the truth is we are denying him all the time.  Think of how the impure person thinks they see God but get a distorted view of Him, while the pure in heart are able to see God as he really is.

James adds a point to this whole discussion first by telling us the pure and undefiled religion is to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction and to keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27).  Then in chapter 3:17-18 he described wisdom in this way: “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.  Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.”  Wise people are pure in heart.  Such purity of heart will change the actions, the emotions and the attitudes of the person.

But what did he mean by saying the pure in hear will see God?  Obviously it could point to heaven and those who are pure in heart seeing God in glory when this life is over.  But I don’t think that is the point Jesus was making.  I think his point is that when our hearts are pure, totally focused on God and His will for us, we see God in all the things around us.  We should see God in the beautiful flowers of springtime, in the streams, the hills, the valleys, the mountaintops, in the birds and animals that show up and in the children in our lives.  We should see God in the people we are around all the time.  We ought to see a glimpse of God in the hurting, homeless, addict that has totally lost their sense of direction in life.  Certainly Satan is at work there as well.  But God shows up in the most helpless person we meet, wishing for us to demonstrate our faith by showing care.  God is all around us, but we can only see him when our heart is pure with the wisdom from above.

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THE BLESSED MERCIFUL

Picture Jesus sitting on the mountainside with the multitudes all around him as he taught them.  I can easily imagine children running here and there as parents try to both keep up with where the kids are and focus on the words of Jesus.  This was near the beginning of his ministry so they didn’t know as much about him as they would in time.  Now it was amazing to them to hear his voice and the power with which he spoke.  They would later declare that he was different than all the religious teachers they had heard before since he spoke with authority and not like the scribes and Pharisees of the day.  I wonder what his voice sounded like.  But it wasn’t the sound of his voice or the method of his speaking that made the difference.  No one ever said anything about his strong voice or his ability as a speaker.  It always had to do with the actual message, his amazing stories that reached for their hearts and the compassion he had for all the people that made the difference.  He had already looked out and spoke the encouraging words that those who were poor in spirit were blessed with the kingdom of heaven.  He had declared those blessed who were broken in grief and spoken comfort to the gentle or meek telling them they would inherit the earth.  He pronounced a blessing on those who were hungry for God and for being right with God.

Then he said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.”  What is mercy anyway?  Mercy is grace with legs on it.  It is compassion in action.  Mercy is active, rather than just feeling with the ones who are hurting and struggling in life, they get involved in serving and doing to help them in their struggle.  It is amazing to watch someone who is really gifted with mercy.  In Romans 12:3-9 when Paul laid out the different spiritual gifts that one might have as a member of the body of Jesus, one of those gifts was “Showing mercy”.  He said if one had the gift of showing mercy then do it with cheerfulness.  In this statement, he laid out one of the inherent dangers one has in showing mercy to others.  It is very easy to show mercy and then complain about how hard it is to help those who are hurting all the time.  Mercy always works best when done with love, care and with a smile.  It is God’s intent that we recognize the act of mercy toward a hurting or struggling person as a blessing from God.  James said if we showed mercy toward others then God would show mercy to us but the one who didn’t show mercy to those around them wouldn’t find mercy from the Lord either.  What is interesting in the statement from James 2 is the context in which the statement about mercy was found.  It was while talking about someone coming into the assembly of the church who was poor and people saying to them to sit somewhere inconspicuous while someone comes in who is wealthy and they offer them the best seat in the house.  How we treat those with less, who are different or who may not be popular demonstrates our sense of mercy.

Yesterday we have the privilege of visiting with family back in Alabama.  One of my sisters is going through some tough times in her life, dealing with dementia and lots of other health issues.  It was amazing watching her granddaughter work with her and take care of her.  As she cared for her and answered her questions, which were usually the same ones she had asked a few minutes before, it was always with extreme kindness and with a cheerful attitude.  What made it all the more interesting was that the granddaughter was getting over surgery on her foot and was still having some difficulty getting around herself.  But her focus seemed to be totally on her grandmother.

Mercy begets mercy.  I certainly believe this means our being merciful brings mercy from God, but it is a principle that runs through human nature as well.  One of the aspects of life that I’ve seen play out over and over again is the person who is full of mercy with others tends to have that same kind of mercy returned to them when they are hurting or struggling in life.  If one finds it near impossible to feel with others in their hurts, it seems that others tend to have the same reaction toward them in their times of stress or trouble.  I wonder how many times through the years I’ve had someone complain that they had been sick or had problems and no one seemed to reach out and visit or even check on them.  It never seems to dawn on them that others all around them have gone through similar things all through the years but they never had the time or interest to do anything to help them in their times of need.

We live in a world of hurt.  Sometimes we become callous toward the hurt because so much is said about hurts and struggles all over the world.  We see scenes of people starving in faraway places asking for money to be sent.  Then there will be a scene about animals, usually dogs that are hungry and neglected to ask for you to send money to take care of them.  Immediately afterward there will be an ad for “Wounded Warriors” that we need to send money to.  Often we see those needs dramatized to the degree that looking around us to see people in our family or church family that need help or even children in our area that need someone to get involved in their life, seems less exciting and somewhat mundane.

Mercy works best when demonstrated to people we can touch.  It does the most good when it involves more than just sending money.  It changes us and makes us more into the people God calls us to be when it is done with and for others, we can see and help on a regular basis.  Mercy like so many other aspects of heart and life needs to be fed to remain healthy in our lives.  The more we can walk through life caring for no one except ourselves the more starved mercy becomes in our life until we have the hardest time actually feeling for anyone besides yourself.

No one ever demonstrated mercy in their lives like Jesus.  When he saw hurting or hungry people his heart went out to them.  He was always ready to head to the home of a soldier, a tax collector or a religious leader if someone there was in need of his help.  He was ready to risk his life to go back to Bethany to raise Lazarus from the dead.  Even with the cross looming before him, he thought of the disciples and bowed to wash their feet.  When the mob came to arrest him, he healed Malchus whose ear Peter had cut off with a sword.  While dying on the cross in horrific pain he ministered to a thief hanging on the cross beside him, offering him forgiveness and a home in paradise with him that very day.  The more we become like Jesus the more mercy will be fundamental to our life and character.  God bless the merciful.

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THE BLESSED HUNGRY

Hunger affects us in a multitude of ways.  When we are extremely hungry it is difficult to think of anything besides our hunger.  All kinds of things may be going on around us that would normally pull our attention to it, but when we haven’t eaten in a few days, nothing draws our attention except the desire for food.  When Jesus sat down on the mountainside to proclaim the Sermon on the Mount, it hadn’t been much time at all since the days in the wilderness, following his baptism in the Jordan.  The Spirit drove him into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil for forty days.  He went the whole time fasting from food and afterward was very hungry.  It was at that point that Satan showed up.  His first temptation of Jesus was “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to be made bread.”  Now for me, that wouldn’t have been much of a temptation, since I don’t have the ability to turn the stones into bread.  But for Jesus, it was a completely different matter.  He had the power to say to the rocks, “become bread” and they would have obeyed.  Many have said that the rocks in the area were small, flat, white rocks that actually looked like wafers or cookies. He was as hungry as a person could be, having gone forty days without food.  So, the temptation to use his miraculous power selfishly and settle the hunger pains were real. Yet he responded by saying, “It is written, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.”

Jesus resisted Satan’s attack that day.  But when he sat down on the mountainside, that thought and feeling were still very close to him.  As he looked at the crowd he certainly recognized that many of the people in the crowd were also struggling with hunger and thirst for food and drink.  But he also recognized they had an even deeper hunger deep in their soul.  They were hungry for a right relationship with God.  They were parched with the thirst for God and the feelings that He was close to them and in a tight relationship with them.  As he eyes focused on these hungry and thirsty souls he declared, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Recently, I had the opportunity to take a young man to lunch that hadn’t had enough to eat in a long time.  When we sat down it was obvious that he could hardly stand the wait for the food to come.  When his food was placed in front of him, he dug in with all the focus one could imagine.  It seemed to me as if I had totally disappeared from the scene when the food was sat before him.  Nothing was now on his mind but consuming the food as quickly and with as much gusto and one could imagine.  Now I ate the food in front of me as well, but not at all like he did.  I wasn’t particularly hungry having eaten breakfast a few hours earlier.  But for him this was special.

It was for that person that Jesus spoke.  Many in the crowd had empty stomach’s and certainly would have been drawn to food, but they had an even deeper hunger.  They longed for a true and personal relationship with God.  Their hunger or thirst wasn’t just for food and drink, they felt the same kind of gnawing pain for God and being in a personal relationship with him that they had for the food.  Jesus was speaking to that person in the crowd when he said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  It wasn’t so much his declaration that we should all be hungry and thirsty for righteousness in our lives.  Instead, it was the recognition that many of them had such a deep longing for him and focusing on their longing he said, “You are blessed for having such a hunger and thirst.”  What is the blessing for one being so hungry for God and for being right with him?  It is that the hunger will be satisfied.

When the man I took to lunch finally reached the stage that he had a full stomach, he looked up with a smile and said, “I’m satisfied.”  It was truly as if he could finally think of something else and that we could talk about some other problems and challenges in his life, now that his hunger was satisfied.

The Bible speaks of righteousness in more than one way.  There is a kind of righteousness tied to doing everything just right, that we can never attain to.  It was that kind of righteousness that Paul refers to in Romans 3 when he said: “There is none righteous, no not one.”  A righteousness based on doing everything right or even being totally obedient to God’s commands in life was only satisfied by one person in all the history of humanity.  Only Jesus suffered all the temptations of life without ever giving in to the temptations he faced.  He is totally righteous in that he never sinned, never failed to obey God’s teaching and never had anything in his life he needed to repent of.  When we strive or hunger for that kind of righteousness, knowing full well that we have sinned many times already and that we will fail to follow God’s will totally throughout our lives it will never be satisfied.

There is a kind of personal righteousness that is tied to our being forgiven by God for the failures and sins in our life and that is now tied to our striving to live in the way God calls us to live.  In Romans 6:16-18 Paul talked about this kind of righteousness.  “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness?  But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed and have been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.”  This is a righteousness tied to being cleansed by the blood of Jesus from sin as we turn to God and strive to live obediently to him all the time.  This kind of righteousness grows in us as we mature in Christ.

The third way the Bible speaks of righteousness is imputed righteousness.  In Romans 4 Paul discussed this type righteousness using Abraham as his prime example.  Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness (Verse 3).  “He was fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.  That is why his faith was counted to him as righteousness” (Verses 21-22).  Notice how Paul proceded from that illustration to make his point in verses 23-25.  “But the words ‘it was counted to him’ were not written for his sake alone, but for ours also.  It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, who was delivered up for our transpasses and raised for our justification.”  Through Jesus sacrificial death in which our sins were imputed to him so he could pay the price for us and his righteousness is imputed to us who believe in him just as righteousness was counted to Abraham when he believed God in what he promised.

Praise God our hunger for a right relationship with God can be completely satisfied through Jesus obedient actions and our obedient faith in him.  Truly we are blessed when we hunger and thirst for that righteousness because God has made it possible for all of us or any of us to be fully satisfied in Him.

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THE BLESSED MEEK

Meekness or gentleness isn’t often looked on as a positive attribute that one should long for.  Yet God looked at Moses and declared he was the meekest of men.  Jesus said about himself I am meek and lowly of heart in the great invitation.  When Paul laid out the fruit of the Spirit one of the elements of the fruit was meekness or gentleness.  In Philippians 4 he challenged Christians to allow their gentle spirit to be known by all.  What do you think of or picture in your mind when you hear one described as meek or gentle?  Is it the “meek and mild” of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood?  Is it looking at Jesus and seeing one who is somewhat soft?  Peter said of the godly woman that was longing to win her non-Christian husband to the Lord that she needed to not put the emphasis in her life on outward beauty but on a gentle and quiet spirit that is very precious in God’s sight.  So, what exactly is God saying to us when he challenges us to be meek or gentle of heart?

It should help us to look closely at Jesus during his ministry on earth.  He was certainly one who was gentle in his dealings with many.  He could lovingly take a child into his arms and bless them.  He could reach out to the leper and lay his hand on him as he healed him of his skin disease.  He could gently comfort the grieving widow whose only son had died as Jesus stopped the ones carrying his body and raised him from the dead.  He dealt gently with the woman who had a bleeding problem that none of the doctors could heal and stopped the flow of blood and gave her peace.  He could rebuke Martha for trying to make Mary into another Martha and tell her that she is worried about many things when only one is needed and even remind her that Mary had chosen the good part without being offensive to Martha.  But, what about when he looked at the Pharisees, Scribes, and Sadducees and declared them to be hypocrites and pronounced seven “Woe’s” upon them for their wrong attitudes and actions?  Did he then act with meekness or gentleness?  What about when he told Peter to “Get behind me Satan for you are not setting your mind on the things of God but on the things of men”?  Would that be an example of being meek?  What about when James and John along with the other apostles told him about rebuking the man who was casting out demons in the name of the Lord and telling him to stop since he wasn’t one of them?  Jesus told them they were wrong.  Don’t tell him to stop.  He that is not against us is on our side.  Was that a form of meekness or gentleness?

The word here translated meekness or gentleness literally means to be tame or under control.  It is the same word we use when we speak of a horse that has been trained well saying that it is all right for a child to get close to him since it is a gentle animal.  We certainly don’t mean by such a statement that the horse is weak or mild.  We mean the horse has been tamed.  It has been trained and has its strength under control.  Meekness or gentleness has nothing to do with a lack of strength.  It has everything to do with one having their emotions, their tongue, their temper and their thoughts under control.  When we lose control of our temper and say or do things that we will soon wish we hadn’t and often hurt the very people that we love the most it is a demonstration of a lack of meekness or gentleness.  When we lose control of our tongue and say things that are hurtful to others, tearing them down and building a wall between them and us, it is a demonstration of a void of meekness or gentleness.  When we have no control over our thinking or our passions and allow desires to go where they shouldn’t ever go, it shows a lack of meekness or gentleness.  When we use drugs or alcohol that causes us to lose all our abilities to control the emotions or actions it demonstrates the lack of meekness or gentleness in our life.

What is the difference then between “self-control” and “meekness”?  Self-control is important and is also a fruit of the Spirit but it is all about our own ability to control our feelings and actions.  Meekness or gentleness takes a step beyond that and yields the control to the Lord.  Jesus was demonstrating his meekness when he said, “I didn’t come to do my own will but the will of him who sent me.”  It was the highest demonstration of such meekness when in the Garden of Gethsemane he prayed to the Father that if it was possible for him to take this cup of suffering on the cross away from him, “Nevertheless, not my will but yours be done.”  He dreaded the cross, the pain, suffering and most of all the taking of the sins of all the world upon him to die for the sins of all so that anyone might through him be saved.  Yet he yielded total control over to the Father and went to the cross without hesitation.  Even though he could have called down twelve legions of angels to deliver him from the cruel death of calvary, he chose to submit to the Father to save us.

Jesus looked out at the crowd that day and pronounced the blessing on those who are meek, yielded to God, and the blessing is, “they shall inherit the earth.”  If there has ever been a strange promise from the Lord, this is it.  If he had said the meek would inherit heaven it would have made sense to us.  But inherit the earth!  How will the meek inherit the earth?  It may refer to the reality that when this life is over and this world is destroyed by the fire that God will give us as his children a new heaven and new earth where righteousness will dwell.  But I think it is more about the here and now than the ultimate rewards in glory.  The meek or gentle inherit the earth in that they are the ones who get the blessings and benefits of the earth.  They aren’t constantly burning down the relationships that matter with being out of control.  They can live life with love, compassion, and forgiveness that doesn’t burn their bridges but builds bridges to others continually.  The meek make the very best use of their time on this earth now so they can enjoy the ultimate rewards of the new heaven and new earth where righteousness dwells.

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THE BLESSED GRIEVING

From our point of view, one of the strangest statements Jesus ever made was the second of the beatitudes in the Sermon on the Mount.  He had said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs are the kingdom of God” and that one was a challenge. But the second is, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”  As with most of these statements from Jesus he chose the strongest word available in the Greek language to express this mourning or grieving.  It carried with it the idea of crying out in grief.  It had to do with the agony one feels at the loss of one they love or some huge loss that makes them feel they wish to give up or simply fall apart.  When the prophet Isaiah looked down into the future to see the coming of the Messiah into the world he painted for us a picture of what Jesus would deal with.  “Who has believed what he has heard from us?  And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?  For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him and no beauty that we should desire him.  He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised and we esteemed him not” (Isaiah 53:1-3).

From this picture of Jesus as the Messiah, it stands out that he knew well what it was to suffer grief and pain.  When he pronounced the blessing on those who mourned it wasn’t meant to say that mourning is some wonderful thing that we should seek.  He was looking at people who were mourning, grieving in life.  The hurt they felt ran deep in a multitude of ways.  They were struggling with poverty, with being under the rule of the Roman authorities who often mistreated them.  Their religious leaders had become more and more corrupt and intent on building their own empire rather than focusing on the hurts and problems of the people.  All of that, plus the personal hurts that were invading their minds and feelings every day.  The truth is, grief and mourning, are common in humanity at all times.  The physical comforts and benefits of life are never able to remove the emotional emptiness that invades us.  We try hard to fill the void in us with things, ideas, people, and pleasures.  But the void is one created in us by the lack of God in our lives and can only be filled by God.  It is amazing how we will grasp for one thing after another believing every time that if we just get this that it will heal the hurts deep within.  It never takes long to realize that things won’t fill the empty places in us.
So, what is the blessing Jesus is offering to those who are grieving in life?  Notice, in each of these beatitudes he not only pronounced that each group was blessed, he declared the blessing at the end of it.  In this case, the blessing is “They shall be comforted.”  If you look at Jesus ministry on earth, it is consumed with bringing comfort to the mourning ones in the world.  He healed all manner of sicknesses.  He made those who were blind able to see.  He made it possible for those who were deaf to hear again.  He cast out demons that had taken over the lives of so many people of his day.  He raised the dead friends and relatives of some.  Remember the widow who had just one son and the son had died.  Jesus stopped the funeral procession and raised the boy from the dead and gave him back to his mother.  He went to the home of Jairus and his wife to raise their twelve-year-old daughter when all the people around them were saying not to bother Jesus since the girl was already dead.  He went back to Bethany when he knew the religious leaders in Jerusalem only a couple of miles away were looking for a way to put him to death, because Lazarus the brother of Mary and Martha had died.  He met both Martha and Mary on the road before getting to their home.  With Mary, he wept as he shared her grief at the death of her brother.  He felt their pain as they both cried out, “Lord if you had been here my brother would not have died.”  When they went to the place where he had been laid Jesus told them to remove the stone that covered the entrance to the cave where he was and then shouted, “Lazarus come forth.”  He came out of the tomb with the grave clothes still on, with Jesus declaring, “loose him and let him go.”

Jesus comforted people who were hurting by offering acceptance of those who were outside the privileged crowd or the religiously “in” group.  He was the friend of tax collectors and sinners.  Even the twelve were not exactly ones who had their spiritual life altogether.  They were struggling servants of the Lord who wrestled with all kinds of difficulties.  Peter led the group but was up and down going on one day from being blessed for confessing Jesus as the Christ and then being called Satan for saying to Jesus that he couldn’t go through with being arrested, tried and crucified in Jerusalem.  James and John wanted the right and left hand in the kingdom but were always struggling with hot tempers to the degree Jesus named them sons of thunder.  Thomas struggled with doubts.  Judas was a thief and sold the Lord for the price of a slave.  But Jesus chose these men to walk with him, learn from him and to imbibe his spirit.  Except for Judas they grew, learned and changed to become the witnesses who would carry the gospel message to the world in one generation.

Jesus still blesses the hurting, mourning and grieving people of the world.  He comforts with forgiveness that readily offers a fresh start to any who will turn to him for life, forgiveness and a relationship with him as savior and lord.  He comforts us by sending His Holy Spirit to be with us, in us and to help us in all our weaknesses.  Jesus promised the disciples he would not leave them as orphans but would send them another comforter or counselor.  The Spirit in us will produce the fruit of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, self-control and such things.

We are comforted by the Lord in that we become part of God’s family, His children when we give our lives to Christ.  God is our loving Father.  His plea to all of us is to “Cast our cares upon him because he cares for us.”  The greatest story Jesus told was of the Father and two sons.  When the younger son determined to leave, the father let him.  He even divided the inheritance with the sons.  When he lived an ungodly life, the Father didn’t rush in to pull him out.  When he began to be in want, the Father allowed him to feel the pain, the loneliness and the hurt of sin.  When he came to himself and determined to come home and plead with the Father to take him back as a hired servant because he had sinned against him and wasn’t worthy to be called a son any longer, the Father saw him coming and ran to meet him, threw his arms around him and kissed him.  The son started to tell his father how he had failed and pleaded for mercy to be a servant, but the Father was so busy welcoming him back it didn’t seem to matter what he said.  The Father ordered servants to get his best robe to put on the son, get him shoes for his feet, a ring for his finger and let’s kill the fattened calf and have a huge party because my son was dead and is alive again.  He was lost and is found.  When the older brother came in and was frustrated because the Father had received the younger one back as his son, the Father went out to plead with him to come in as well.  God cares.  God comforts the hurting.

His plan is for the church to be that family that loves and comforts those who are hurting just like every member of the Godhead cares, loves and comforts.  God’s blessing is to offer loving comfort to everyone who will come to him for life.  He doesn’t always remove the hurts of life.  Sometimes he gives us more grace to deal with those hurts and struggles.  But God always comforts in ways that are beyond everyone else.  Often He offers his comfort through those people who belong to him in the world.

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