Watercolor painting by E. J. Kirsch

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Mar 22, 2015

“The Blessed Ones?” 3-22-15

Matthew 5:1-16 & Jeremiah 38:1-13
March 22, 2015

Today, as we look forward to Palm Sunday next week, and Easter the Sunday after, we are starting to look at an extended passage that has been called the Sermon on the Mount.  This Sermon was given by Jesus early in his ministry, during the time when large crowds of Galileans were coming to him to listen to him and have him heal their sick. 
But I am not sure that this sermon was really for the crowds.  Matthew tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain and his disciples, those who followed him and learned from him, those whom he had chosen came to him and he taught them. 
So it seems that the contents of the Sermon on the Mount were mostly for the followers of Jesus and not the crowds who came to see him do miracles. And what was the purpose of the sermon?  To demonstrate what kind of a life he was calling them to.  But as we read through the sermon, it is revealed that the crowds were also there. 
The first thing he says about his followers is that they are blessed.  This term comes out of the Jewish culture of his time.  In fact, it preceded the time of Jesus.  We find the Hebrew equivalent occurring often in the Psalms.  We find it enough in the gospels to understand that it was a statement that people made of certain others to denote their having the special favor of God.  This was usually directed toward some noteworthy individual who was valued because of some achievement or status.  At one point a fellow who was at a dinner with Jesus said “Blessed is the one who will eat bread in the kingdom of God”.  And on another occasion a woman said that the woman who bore Jesus and nursed him was blessed.
The term refers to the joy of a life that has been lived in obedience to God and the rewards of pleasing God. These are those who have lived well before God and have pleased Him and have known His gifts in their lives.
So who are these?  They might not be the ones you would have singled out as being blessed by God.
They are the Poor in Spirit.  What does that mean?  They display a spiritual humility.  They know that they do not possess the knowledge or wisdom or power to be god-pleasing or to have a good life or to please others, or to raise their children, so they ask God for guidance.  They depend on God to guide and assist them.  They pray before they begin their day, before they eat, and before they enter their night’s rest because they seek God’s wisdom and comfort.  They read and study God’s word because they do not have the answers to the questions of life.
These are the ones who are in and who will be guided into the kingdom of Heaven.
These blessed ones are also those who mourn.  Now those of us who have experienced great losses in our lives know that grief and mourning is a process that helps us go on and we need to go through it.  But Jesus is not just addressing people in the time of a great loss.  He is addressing his followers in all times in our life.  You see, there are aspects of this life that ought to cause one who loves God and the people he has created to mourn because of the evil in this world and the suffering it causes.  The warped standards of this world should keep a part of us in perpetual mourning.  To be a Christian is to be grieved about much of what happens in this world.  And we also need to grieve about our own sins and sinfulness.  To stand before God as a human being means being sorrowful.  God will comfort those who mourn in these ways.
Those who are blessed of God are meek.  They are not the forceful ones of this world, the ones who have over powered or intimidated others.  They are the ones who cast aside their own agendas and allow God to work through them.  They have been willing agents of God in this world.  Sometimes they appear strong as the prophet Elijah on Mount Carmel. Sometimes they appear weak, taking insults from others for their faith, as Elijah did when he hid in a cave.   But in all they try to honor and glorify not themselves but God.  And in the end, when the kingdom of God overcomes and remakes the earth, they will inherit it.
The blessed ones hunger and thirst for righteousness.  This one may be difficult for those of you born and raised in America to understand.  Because most of us have never really been hungry or thirsty.  The hunger and thirst mentioned here are at starvation levels, and the little growly stomachs and dry mouths that we might have experienced do not give us a true understanding.   These are those who yearn for righteousness as man who has been without food for a month hungers for food.  These are those who yearn for righteousness as one who had not had a drop of water for days thirsts for water.  Their predominant desires are for god pleasing righteous behaviors in themselves and everyone else.  They will be filled; God will give them what they want.
The blessed ones are merciful.  They care for others in ways that help others.  They reach out to help even those who can be seen as partly responsible for their difficulties.  As God reached out to us when we were responsible for our sins.  They will receive the mercy of God.
The blessed ones long for peace and try to bring peace on earth.  This concept is also difficult for Westerners to understand, because for us, peace is the absence of war or conflict or tension.  It is a kind of an empty concept, identified by what it is not.  That is not the kind of peace that Jesus, the Middle-eastern Jew was thinking of. 
In the Middle East, peace, or shalom is a positive concept, it denotes a fullness, not an emptiness.  It implies all the best that a person can enjoy.  It is a sense of well-being that is a source of help and confidence for others.  The one who has this kind of peace is a source of peace for others.  We who are reconciled to God through the Son should assist others in finding peace.  Those who seek to bring this peace to others will be known as children of God.
The blessed ones will be persecuted because of their righteousness and sometimes simply because they claim the name of the righteous God.  This, the last of the beatitudes has two parts, the simple statement and corresponding blessing, as is the case of the preceding blessings, AND a particular application to Jesus’ hearers, Blessed are You… falsely on my account.  For this is what those like them did to the prophets.
Our first lesson is an example of this.  Jeremiah was told to tell the people of Jerusalem to Surrender to the enemy, that it was God’s will that Jerusalem be conquered by Babylon.  This was regarded as treason, and Jeremiah was thrown into a mostly dry cistern to die, but was rescued and remained imprisoned until the Babylonians liberated him.
One of the realities of being in the kingdom of God while the evil kingdoms of this world still exist is that the followers of Jesus are often persecuted and killed simply for being Christians and living by Christ’s standards.  This makes us angry, as well it should, but God guarantees that such sufferers shall inherit the kingdom of heaven or the eternal kingdom of God.  And he calls us to join their ranks, to not be afraid of suffering for the cause of Christ.  In fact when such things happen to us, we are to rejoice and be glad.
And we are to be bold and public about our Christian qualities.  Followers of Christ are the salt of the earth (this seems to be the origination of the once popular phrase).  This metaphor is from the pre-electricity era.  There was no refrigeration.  Meat was preserved with salt.  Salt also has a savor-adding quality.  Christians are to add flavor to this world and preserve the good things within the rotting kingdoms of this world until Jesus returns to end them.
We are also to reflect the light of Jesus into the world.  Again, before electricity, light sources were feeble and precious.  But each house kept at least one light burning because it took a lot of work to start a new flame.  Sometimes, if everyone was leaving the house, they would put the lamp under a bushel measure crock (not a basket!) but the normal purpose of a light was to shine and illuminate the vicinity.  Like a city on a hill, light is to be visible and obvious.  Our good works are a part of our light, Jesus light, that we are to shine into our world, in spite of persecutions, mourning, hunger, thirst or any other inconvenience.  Let your light shine, o blessed ones!

Pastor David L. Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906