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Radical Jesus (Part 1: Beatitudes)

May 19, 2014

Text: Matthew 5: 1-12

Title: “Who Would Have Thought It?”

 Matthew 4 recounts the launch of Jesus’ ministry.  After the temptation, he relocates from inland Nazareth to lakeside Capernaum, chooses disciples and begins a traveling ministry that features teaching, preaching, exorcisms and healing.  Huge crowds are now migrating to Galilee to find him, desperate people who come in search of a miracle and Matthew reports, “He healed them all.”  Jesus began his ministry in Galilean homes and synagogues but quickly his popularity required outdoor venues.  Let’s look at where this sermon was delivered.  The northern part of modern Israel is called Galilee for the large freshwater lake that defines the region.  Galilee is the most fertile, green and well watered part of Israel and in Jesus’ day the lake was a bustling commerce center with fishing villages dotting its shores.  The region produced hearty people with peculiar sensibilies; a unique accent and revolutionary tendencies.  The Radical Jesus hailed from these parts and if you don’t know Galilee, you can’t know Jesus.  The Sea of Galilee is surrounded by hills which form natural amphitheaters.  Catch a breeze blowing from the lake inland and your amplification system was in place.  The Mount of the Beatitudes is the spot many believe Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount and if it isn’t, the actual spot isn’t far away but to be honest, it really doesn’t matter where he said it, what matters is what he said.

V. 1 One day as the crowds gathered before him, Jesus went up the hillside to teach them The first thing you need to know is that what Jesus is about to teach is offensive.  He wants to offend.  He wants to offend every bit of pride we carry, every impure motive, every rebellious instinct and every self-righteous inclination.

V. 2 This is what he taught them Think of the Beatitudes as a mathematic progression, where one precept builds upon the next in a logical sequence or a multi-level video game that won’t allow you to unlock the next level until you have mastered the first.  Jesus begins each thought with “blessed are you.”  Oswald Chambers offers some organizing thoughts as we begin our journey, “Beware of placing our Lord as Teacher first instead of Savior…What us the use of giving us an ideal we cannot possible obtain?  We are happier without it.  The Sermon on the Mount produces despair in the heart of the natural man… (for) The bedrock of Jesus Christ’s kingdom is a sense of absolute futility.  ‘I cannot begin to do it.’ Then Jesus says, ‘Blessed are you.” Some of you don’t feel very blessed.  You are crying out to God in the midst of relational, health, emotional, vocational, financial or spiritual issues.  You don’t feel any victory in Jesus at all, in fact all you feel is overwhelmed, empty, helpless and bitter.  It is to you, yes to you who have nothing to offer but emptiness, hurt, doubt and pain, the Radical Jesus says, “Blessed are you.”

V. 3 When we recognize how much we need God we are blessed because the Kingdom of God is our inheritance The actual phrase here is “poor in spirit.”   The Christian walk begins with a desperate need for God.  Often when everything is going our way, we think, “We’ve got this!”  When we are healthy, wealthy, upwardly mobile, have it all together, running with the in crowd and have the world by the tail, we think we are invincible.  But Jesus would counter that at the very moment we think we are most blessed, feeling large and in charge, we are in the greatest danger of all.   Jesus suggests blessing comes when our health is tenuous, when the check book is low, when the promotion didn’t come, when our theories fall apart, when we feel alone and rejected and when we are at our most vulnerable for in these times we are most in touch with our need for God.  Those who want everything but God will end up with nothing.  Those who want nothing but God will end up with everything.

V. 4 When we have experienced overwhelming loss we are blessed because we will find comfort Jesus argues that if we are to embrace the Kingdom of God, we must reject the kingdom of this world.  To want nothing but God requires death to our desires for everything else.  The word used for mourning here is the most intense of all Greek words for mourning.  It denotes the person at the funeral service who can’t even pull it together for thirty minutes and weeps uncontrollably throughout.  Paul later wrote in Galatians 2:20, “I am crucified with Christ, never the less I live.”  Self-crucifixion is a form of death that requires a period of mourning and in that very act of mourning the death to ourselves, God comforts us with nothing less than himself.   When the pain of death threatens to swallow us whole, the one who defeated death, draws near to us and we are blessed by his divine presence.

V. 5 When we are gentle we are blessed for we will inherit the earth Gentle means a thing has the capacity to do great harm but chooses not to.  A bear can be gentle but not a mouse.  A Great Dane can be gentle but not a Toy Poodle.  A mighty and powerful horse that has been saddle broken has chosen the path of gentleness as do we when we accept God’s bit in our mouths and bring every lust, craving, impulse and instinct under the reign of God.  These days too much of what I see posted on Social Media in the name of Christ seems to bear the stamp of self-righteousness rather than gentleness.  Many people of faith are so sure they are so right on everything these days that they are willing to be most unchristian about their Christianity.  The public discourse is as vicious as it is arrogant and I wonder if in our relentless efforts to be right in the name of God, we have rejected gentle character of God’s people.  Why would those who will inherit the earth feel the need to take it by force?  When we choose to turn the other cheek, be quiet, forgiving, meek, giving and kind we stand in line to inherit the earth.  

V. 6 When we hunger and thirst for justice we are blessed for we will receive it in full In an attitude of brokenness before God and utter submission to God, we begin to see that doing God’s work is the very purpose for our creation.  The Greek word used here for justice can be as equally well translated goodness or righteousness.  William Barclay reminds us that the normal Greek syntax for hunger and thirst would involve desiring a part of the loaf of bread or just a cup of water.  In a desert culture where people often lived on the verge of starvation and would be most familiar with a level of thirst few of us have ever experienced, the idea was to get enough to eat or drink to take off the edge; our daily bread so to speak.  The syntax Luke uses here does not mean that at all, it means to eat to filling and completely slake thirst.  Jesus is saying that those who live in right relationship with God will never be satisfied with partial justice, goodness or righteousness and with that holy dissatisfaction, they are already immersed in bringing about that which their heart’s most desire.

V. 7 When we are merciful we are blessed for we will be shown mercy Jesus’ lesson is about to intensify.  The word translated mercy means total empathy.  It is to so put yourself in the place of another that judgment of them becomes impossible.  When I was in seminary, I served an internship at an Episcopal homeless shelter.  Going in, I had all kinds of preconceptions about and opinions of the people I would find there.  But I found that when you abide with people for a while, your pejorative opinions weaken, your compassion intensifies and judgment gives way to mercy.  I don’t know that I helped anyone that Atlanta shelter but they sure helped me.  I learned that when I keep my ears open, my fingers off the keyboard and my mouth shut until I actually care about people, I say far fewer stupid things and far more merciful ones.  We are blessed when we offer mercy because we have placed ourselves in position to receive mercy.  And without mercy, none of us stand a chance.

V. 8 The pure in heart will see God The deliberate process of showing mercy purifies the soul and like water tumbling down a mountain stream we get filtered, clearer, purer as we go.  The Greek word katharos has many meanings that apply to purity but I particularly like one application.  It refers to an army that has been purged of disloyal, half-hearted, weak, cowardly, unskilled, insubordinate and undisciplined men.  What you have left is katharos, a pure army.  In the same sense, when we allow God to filter all ungodly thing out of our lives, what we have left is pure Christianity.  Purity probes well below the surface level of good deeds and questions motives and if we get really honest about it, that makes us mad.  I know a lot of people who do good, even great good but deep down they want recognition, admiration, appreciation and accolades.  These folks get frustrated when they don’t get what they want so they become rebellious, accuse others of not being as Christian as they and cause discord all in the name of self-righteousness.  You might buy that, your friends might buy that and your 17 Twitter followers might buy that but Jesus isn’t buying it.  Pure hearts come from the filters of brokenness, loss, hunger and thirst and a passion for justice and mercy.  Those who do the wrong things for the wrong reasons are evil.  Those who do the wrong things for the right reasons are misguided.  Those who do the right things for the wrong reasons are manipulative.  Those who do the right things for the right reasons will see God.

V. 9 Those who work for peace will be called the children of God What do people with pure hearts do?  They work toward peace.  The Hebrew word shalom does not point to the absence of conflict, it denotes the presence of God.  Peace is the by-produce of anything or anyone containing the presence of Christ.  For the Radical Jesus, peace always came down to two things; relationship with God and relationship with people. Peace making is not passive work, it is active work.  It is to be an instrument of reconciliation, to model the path of forgiveness and bridge the chasms that divide.  Peace makers introduce Christ into every situation and are called God’s children.

V. 10 Those who suffer for Christ inherit the Kingdom of Heaven So what do you get when you have mastered the lesson or cleared all the levels?  Persecuted! Surprisingly, the message of the Radical Jesus did not just hurt the ears of the wicked, it hurt the ears of priests and scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees even worse.

Luke 18: 9-14 (NLT)

Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not a sinner like everyone else. For I don’t cheat, I don’t sin, and I don’t commit adultery. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’

“But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Jesus wasn’t accused by rank and file sinners, he was accused by enfranchised sinners dressed in priestly robes.  By establishing God’s bull’s eye, his life and teaching became a witness not only against those who miss the mark low but those who miss the mark high.  Jesus wasn’t killed by low aiming sinners, he was killed by those who thought themselves saints.  But to all those who suffer persecution in time and space, Jesus said, “Blessed are you for a reward awaits you in heaven.”  And with this staggering message, the Radical Jesus begins the Sermon on the Mount.  So a poverty of spirit, a mourning heart, a gentle disposition, a thirst for righteousness, an empathetic soul and a desire for peace are the way to the Kingdom of God…who would have ever thought that?

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