Tag Archives: beatitudes

Today’s Scripture – August 8, 2017

Luke 6:20-26 (NIV) Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.
“Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.
“But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.”

Luke gives a brief encapsulation of the beatitudes that Jesus gave to His followers. Matthew captured only the positive aspects of this speech in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12), but those whom Luke interviewed also remembered the “flip side,” the woes that Jesus pronounced on those who were satisfied and self-righteous. These come in four contrasting pairs.

Those who are poor are called blessed. Though they have little of material value, they are receiving the kingdom of God because of their faith in Jesus. On the other hand, those who are rich and satisfied with their lives will not receive the kingdom. Their self-satisfaction and the lure of wealth will block their way. This angle was reemphasized by Jesus in His encounter with the rich young man who would not turn away from his worldly wealth, even to enter the kingdom of God (Luke 18:22-25).

Those who are hungry (Luke emphasizes physical hunger, while Matthew focused on hunger and thirst for righteousness) are blessed, because God Himself has promised to provide what is needed for those who serve and obey Him. He will open up channels of provision for them, even as he provided manna for His people in the wilderness. But woe is pronounced on those who are well fed, because fortunes change and shift constantly, and those who depend upon their own ability to provide for themselves and their families are very likely to end up in need at some point. And, because they have not relied on God in times of plenty, they will not receive His provision in times of need.

Those who weep and mourn over tragedies and unfairness of life are pronounced blessed, because they can turn to God and receive comfort for their souls. But those who are satisfied and have joy in their comfort have woe pronounced over them, because circumstances shift suddenly, and loss and grief are inevitable in our broken world. If a person does not cultivate a strong relationship with God in the good times (and very few even think about their relationship with God when they are riding high), they have a very hard time seeking God when grief suddenly comes into their lives, and they will end up facing those hard times alone.

Finally, those who are hated, excluded, rejected, and persecuted because of their relationship with Jesus are blessed, because they are sharing in the same persecution as God’s true followers have always experienced at the hands of unbelievers. On the other hand, those who work their words and their lives to gain the acclaim of others, avoiding the hard truths that must often be spoken to draw people close to God, may enjoy a good reputation among the people of the world, but they deserve a woe from Jesus. They are doing the same things that the false prophets of the past have always done, telling people what they want to hear, and they will ultimately end up with God’s judgment against them.

Father, many of us are familiar with the up-sides of these teachings, the blessings. But the down-sides, the woes are as jarring to us as they would have been to those who first heard Jesus speak them. After all, we consider those who are rich, well-fed, happy, and popular, to be blessed above all others. But Jesus pronounced solemn woes over them, because all of those positive things can easily lead to self-satisfaction and a feeling of autonomy that can become a wall between them and You. Help me, Lord, to never allow myself to become self-satisfied like that, and to end up outside of the circle of Your blessing. Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 25, 2016

Matthew 5:10-12 (NIV)
“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.”

If there is anyone entitled to NOT feel blessed, it would be those who are undergoing active persecution.  I’m not talking about those who fall out of public favor, or have some rights curtailed.  Those may be precursors to the persecution that follows, but are in themselves merely symptoms of swimming against the current of popular opinion.

There are those right this minute who are experiencing pain, suffering, and loss of friends, family, jobs, and property; those who are languishing in prison, or who are healing from their latest beating, all because they refuse to turn away from their faith in God.  They are not even willing to compromise that faith in any way to save themselves or their loved ones, because they know that this life is temporary anyway, and that this struggle they are undergoing is just a small part of a cosmic-scale battle that is being fought.

As I said, these people have every right to NOT feel blessed in the midst of their sufferings for the sake of the gospel.  But the vast majority of them realize that they really are blessed.  They know that they are blessed because they experience God’s presence in their lives in the midst of their suffering in ways that those who live comfortably in their faith simply can’t.  They experience God’s power and wisdom, and they even experience miracles that help validate their testimony to their persecutors.

But they also realize that they are not alone in suffering for the sake of God’s kingdom.  They are standing in a long line of faithful witnesses and martyrs who stood their ground no matter what.  Even the great prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel were persecuted because they stood firm, kept speaking God’s words, and never compromised.  And in return, they have received a great reward in heaven.

Jesus told His disicples that they would have trouble in this world (John 16:33), and that there would even be people who would persecute them believing that they were doing God a favor (John 16:2).  But He also told them to take heart, or to be courageous, because through His death and resurrection He had already overcome the world, and assured His followers of their own victory, as long as they remained true (John 16:33 again).

The exalted Jesus made many amazing promises to the seven Churches of Asia, all of them made specifically to those who persevered, overcame and stood firm to the end, regardless of the persecutions that they would undergo (Revelation 2 and 3).

God still delivers the great blessings of His presence, His power, His grace, and His wisdom to those who are being persecuted for their faith in Him.  And there are more and greater blessings waiting for them in heaven after they have stood firm to the end.

Father, it is so easy for us to lose sight of the big picture when things are going badly in our lives – and most of us have never actually experienced real persecution!  Help us to stand firm, and to fearlessly follow Your agenda, knowing that, even if the enemies of the gospel persecute us mercilessly, and even kill our bodies, they can do no more than that, and a great reward awaits us in Your presence after we have overcome.  Amen.

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Today’s Scripture – August 15, 2016

Matthew 5:3 (NIV) “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

The beatitudes are not a listing of benchmarks that one needs to achieve in order to advance in the kingdom of God.  They are simply Jesus’ way of helping His disciples to see that the ways of God’s kingdom are, in most ways, the exact opposite of the ways of the world.

The inversion of values and worldview is clearly seen in the qualifications for who is worthy to live in God’s kingdom.  According to the ways of the world, those who are most exalted are those who are proud, and who have made a name for themselves; either born into positions of status and power, or who do amazing things to climb the ladder of success.

As far as the Jewish people, Saul of Tarsus was the poster child for this model.  By zealous pursuit of the ideals and standards of Pharisaism, even to the point of persecuting the Church, he believed that he had earned God’s favor and blessing.  But on the Damascus road, he quickly discovered that all of his striving had earned him nothing but God’s condemnation.  In striving to ensure his own position in God’s kingdom, he had ended up disqualifying himself to even enter it.

Instead, it was and is the poor in spirit, the spiritually bankrupt, those who know that they have no ability to ever earn or deserve a place in God’s kingdom by their own righteousness who, paradoxically, will possess the kingdom.  This inversion of the world order was behind Jesus’ shocking statement to the chief priests:  “I tell you the truth, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are entering the kingdom of God ahead of you.” (Matthew 21:31b)  The Jewish leaders believed that they had a lock on the chief seats in the kingdom, so they saw no reason to repent.  The tax collectors and prostitutes, though, knew that they were completely unworthy of God’s blessing, and when the opportunity presented itself, they repented immediately and found God’s favor, His forgiveness, and His grace.

Saul found this same thing when a clear vision of himself in the light of the resurrected Jesus showed him every sin, every hardened area of his heart, every shortcoming of his life.  The vision dropped him to his knees in horror at who he really was.  He suddenly realized that he was spiritually bankrupt, genuinely poor in spirit.  All of his self-attained righteousness was seen for the filthy rags that it truly was.  But from this humble and truly repentant state, he could finally be transformed into a genuine saint, who would live from that moment on in God’s kingdom.

Self-seeking humility and public demonstrations of penance are of no use in becoming poor in spirit.  The Pharisees fasted twice a week to demonstrate their humility, and it didn’t make them humble, repentant, or poor in spirit at all.  Only true humility, born of a clear, unvarnished look at one’s true heart, will lead to acknowledgement of one’s true spiritual poverty, and a place in God’s kingdom.

Father, we often try to figure out the key that will entitle us to a place in Your favor.  But it is impossible for us to “work up” appropriate humility.  It is clear that that can only come to those of us who are willing to put aside all pretentions, and simply allow You to show us our true hearts.  Help us to see ourselves as You see us, and to truly repent and turn away from every spot of sin and darkness that You show us.  Help us to approach You in the true humility and spiritual poverty that freely admits that “Apart from You, I have no good thing” (Psalm 16:2), and so enter Your kingdom by Your grace.  Amen.

 

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