Sermo913 for 1-29-17, Green, Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

Sermo913 for 1-29-17, Green, Fourth Sunday After Epiphany

Jim Benfer

Sermo913 for 1-29-17, Green, Fourth Sunday after Epiphany

Scripture Reading: Matthew 5:1-12

The Roadmap of Salvation

One Sunday as they drove home from church, a little girl turned to her mother and said, "Mommy, there’s something about the preacher’s message this morning that I don’t understand."

The mother said, "Oh? What is it?"

The little girl replied, "Well, he said that God is bigger than we are. He said God is so big that He could hold the world in His hand. Is that true?"

The mother replied, "Yes, that's true, honey."

"But Mommy, he also said that God comes to live inside of us when we believe in Jesus as our Savior. Is that true, too?"

Again, the mother assured the little girl that what the pastor had said was true. With a puzzled look on her face the little girl then asked, "If God is bigger than us and He lives in us, wouldn't He show through?"

I believe that is what Jesus is teaching on that hillside--that God should be able to be seen and glorified when we have Jesus in our hearts. People should be able to see a difference shining through our words and actions.

Jesus delivered the Sermon on the Mount along the road that skirts the Sea of Galilee between Tiberius to Metula. About two miles from the seaside town of Tabgha is a 330-foot hill called the "Hill of Beatitudes." This longest teaching of Jesus was later titled "Sermon on the Mount" and has it been lifted up as Jesus' greatest teaching, even though the core of his message conflicts greatly to the world's philosophy.

Pope John Paul II spoke to a group of teens in March 2000 about the difference between Christianity and modern culture. "Modern culture says, 'Blessed are the proud.' Jesus said, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit.' Culture says, 'Blessed are the pitiless.' Jesus said, 'Blessed are the merciful.' Culture says, 'Blessed are the devious.' Jesus said, 'Blessed are the pure in heart.' Culture says, 'Blessed are those who fight.' Jesus said, 'Blessed are the peacemakers.' Culture says, 'Blessed are the prosecutors.' Jesus said, 'Blessed are the persecuted.'"[1]

Like the Pope, I agree that Jesus' words were right on target and so appropriate for the 21st century. The ancient Jewish carpenter is still seeking to rebuild our hearts to serve God, and our need is greater than ever to embrace the deep truths of his message.

The term "Beatitude" is derived from the Latin word for blessing - beatus. Most scholarly definitions of this word include references to divine joy or happiness. A closer meaning would include the idea of living in a blessed state. We all want to know how to live our lives feeling blessed! Even more important is our need to experience new and full life through allowing Jesus control in our lives. Let's outline some steps to find this blessing.

First, we need to see clearly the condition we are in. When Jesus speaks to our hearts, he is speaking to our spiritual condition, not our outward situations. Jesus is concerned that the kingdom of heaven live within us. So, he is not speaking to us about a prosperity gospel where earthly riches are found by following God's leading, but a wealth of spiritual blessings that accrue to those who follow the path Jesus is outlining.

The bible first teaches us that we are all sinners in need of God's grace and forgiveness. Perhaps that why Jesus begins by telling the disciples, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Here are people that realize that they stand in need of God's help. They have abandoned their pride for the truth that the penalty of sin is death. Only those who truly understand this will be willing to seek out God, their only hope of salvation.

Jesus then teaches, "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted." Isn't this the logic step for truth-seekers who having learned their unfavorable standing before God's righteousness, now mourn their sinful state and grieve over their condition? Although it has fallen out of favor as too emotional, I still believe there is a place and a time for people to come to the old mourner's bench, or kneel at the altar rail petitioning God because they despise the sin that has made them slaves.

Even though we don't have to earn God's love, we also don't possess the ability to live righteously enough to inherit God's kingdom. No one is righteous--not one. That is why God came as Jesus to provide a sacrifice to satisfy God's righteous requirements, so that we, by faith in Jesus, the sinless sacrifice, might have the righteousness of Jesus imputed to us.

Next, we need to repent of our sin. Having looked deeply into our own souls, and being honest with God and ourselves, we know that we are in trouble and can't live righteously enough to satisfy God. A fourth-grade Sunday school teacher asked her class what repentance meant. One child said, "It means you're sorry for something you did." Another said more accurately, "It means you're sorry enough to quit."

Repentance is a willingness to embrace this ugly truth about ourselves and then seriously begin to amend our character. The bible also teaches us of the wonderful love of God who is willing to love us despite our sin, so that we may repent, find forgiveness, and be accepted as God's children.

Repentance isn't just about going through the motions of mourning our sin. True repentance goes on to change the direction of one's life. Jesus taught, "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth." Here is the repentant person's attitude--meekness. This isn't to say that these people are somehow weak or mild, but that they now bow the knee spiritually to God's kingdom authority over their lives. They have humbled themselves in the knowledge that their only source of life, truth, and blessing comes from submitting control over their out-of-control lives and putting them under the authority of Jesus.

Jesus taught, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled." Here is another direction change for the life of one who truly seeks to be a disciple of Jesus. Repentance causes us to seek after the truth of the gospel message that our old life had so badly missed. It is in seeking after God's righteousness in Jesus that we begin to truly learn of the love of God and how our sinful actions have corrupted us and others, spoiling God's intention to bless us.

Jesus declared that He did not come to condemn the world but to bring life. God's desire is not to beat us down with guilt, but mourning over our sin allows us to experience His amazing grace.

Last, we need to let the Savior live within us. If, after humbling our will to that of God, we truly make Jesus the king of our life, we submit all our authority to Jesus who seeks to glorify God in us. Jesus said, "Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy." As a Christian begins to mature in faith and trust of Jesus, they model the forgiveness shown us by God--that of unmerited favor. This isn't the human way, but the divine living through us when we can put our anger and revenge aside, and then model Christ's sacrificial love. To forgive does not mean to condone or ignore sinful behavior, but it does mean releasing the burden to get revenge or to punish for selfish reasons. Forgiveness liberates you from pretending to be the "judge of the living and the dead." Jesus already occupies that role. This is the love that the world may not understand, but others will see God's light shining through us.

Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God." For the Jews that Jesus sat down to teach, the heart represented the inner being. They had been warned in scripture, "Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."[2] The Levitical teachings had warned against impurity, but had been interpreted as outward cleansings, but God's word was meant to purify the hearts of the people.

Jesus promised the pure would see God. A pure heart allows you to see the unseen and hear the inaudible. Jesus invites you to experience an intimacy with the heavenly Father. He allows pure souls into His holy presence.

Jesus also blessed the peacemakers and those who were persecuted for the sake of the kingdom. These will truly be the sons and daughters of God, who are rewarded in heaven. Peacemakers receive this special honor because they participate in the same mission as Christ by sharing the gospel with those who are lost. You see, we are to proclaim peace with God through the sharing of the good news of gospel of Jesus.

Although straining our human thinking, the blessing of God is especially reserved for those who are persecuted for Jesus' name and the gospel. Nevertheless, we need to understand that this blessing is not foundin being delivered from difficulty in this life. We often confuse blessing and reward. Divine rewards come later, while we experience blessings on earth. Our blessing is the presence of Jesus with us in all of life's trials, and yes, especially when we are persecuted. The promise to persecuted believers is to live for eternity, to lay up treasure in heaven, and to look for joy in eternal truth not temporary things.

The conclusion of these matters is that we have the formula for a blessed life. But it is not in hearing what blesses that brings it about, but in applying these lessons to our own lives. Blessed then, are those who take these words to heart, for they will find salvation. In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen!

[1] HOMILY OF JOHN PAUL II, Israel – Korazim, Mount of the Beatitudes, Friday, 24 March 2000,

[2]Proverbs 4:23 (NIV)