I suspect that over the course of your like you have had one or two “aha” moments. It may have been in response to something you heard, something you read, or something you saw. It would have been a time when you gained a new insight or a new clarity that became like a missing piece of a puzzle. It may have been something related to your job, your understanding of financial principles, your understanding of another person, or it could even have been an insight about yourself.
For many of us that “aha” moment came when we finally understood the simple message of the gospel: that God sent Christ as a gift of love to die for our sinful behavior and open the door for a new and better life. It was, if you will, a moment of divine illumination.
The teachings with comprise Jesus’ teaching known as the “Sermon on the Mount” must have has that kind of power. These words of Jesus are so extraordinary that they stop us in our tracks and force us to take notice. Even many who do not embrace Christianity have found these words insightful.
The “Sermon on the Mount” is found in Matthew 5-7. And this is certainly only the highlights of the message. In the gospel of Luke a good chunk of that “sermon” is found in Luke 6 and many of the other segments are scattered throughout Luke. This fact troubles some people and makes them think the Bible is unreliable. They conclude that Jesus either preached these words in a single sermon or he did not. They believe the Bible is mis-representing the truth. That is a dire over-reaction. Like any traveling teacher, Jesus certainly spoke the same message in different locations. If you compared those messages they would have the same themes but would not be identical. Even though we preach the same message at both the 8:00 and 10:30 worship services they are by no means identical. The words may not match up in Matthew and Luke but the message is the same. We often repeat things in a different context.
It is important that we understand that Jesus is not giving us a list of rules that we must follow in order to be saved. Some of you have come out of churches where week after week you left church feeling you had to work harder and give more in order to be accepted by God. The Bible is clear: we are forgiven and given new and eternal life because we place our trust in Jesus Christ. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor! We are saved because we receive and trust what He has done for us on the cross.
Jesus is helping to us see God’s intention and desire for our lives. He points us in the direction of living the new life that we can have in Him. These words startle us because they confront some of our wrong-headed ways of looking at the world. Jesus calls His followers to live differently from those who do not know Him; those who do not see clearly.
One of the reasons the church lacks the power it had in the past is because we are working so hard to show the world that we are “just like they are” that we have become “Just like they are”.
- We are just as preoccupied with getting rich
- Marriages are just as fragile
- We are just as addicted to power
- We are as obsessively competitive about our children
- Our business ethics are determined by what is to our advantage (Christian are just as likely to “pay someone under the table”)
- And we watch the same shows and laugh at the same crude jokes
Those outside the church see this and conclude that all this talk about “Jesus changing my life” is more of a slogan than a reality. They see no evidence of God’s transforming power in those who claim to follow Him.
In Luke 16:17-26 Jesus makes four statements that start with the word “blessed” and then four that start with the word “woe”. Each of the “blessed” statements has a counterpart in the “woe” section. Jesus identifies four areas where we should be thinking differently from those around us.
The first warning Jesus gave is about wealth. In our world people equate riches with success. People who make more money are deemed “more significant”. Money translates into influence. Almost all of us would like to have more money because deep down we believe that this would solve most of the problems we face in life.
The people of Jesus day looked at wealth much as we do. They actually believed that those who had riches we “blessed by God”. The poor were therefore not blessed. Imagine the shock of the crowd when Jesus said, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
Jesus follows this with the words, “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.”
Jesus wasn’t cursing money as a means of exchange. He wasn’t even saying that people who make a lot of money are bad. What Jesus is speaking against is the mindset that is so wrapped up in worldly possessions that we neglect the life to come. Riches tend to attach us to this world. Many people serve money. Riches are bad when they become our source of security and the driving force of our life. Wealth is often not a blessing; it is a stumbling block.
Matthew puts the focus on our attitude when we writes, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” This qualifier helps us to see that the term “poor” is not only economic, it is also theological. The person who is poor in spirit recognizes that they deserve nothing from God. They also have nothing that can earn God’s favor. We are, if you will, spiritual paupers. Everything we have is an undeserved gift from God. Jesus is warning that if we put our hope and confidence in our bank accounts, retirement funds, and earning potential we may amass worldly wealth; we may know great comfort and pleasure in this life; but we will find that we have spent our lives trusting that which does not last into eternity and will never ultimately satisfy. We may find that in the end we have put our faith in stuff rather than the Savior.
Next, Jesus said, “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.” Once again we turn to Matthew and we see the verse clarified, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Jesus is not saying that hunger and famine are good things in and of themselves. We should be working to alleviate all such suffering. However, physically hungry people tend to be focused people. Have you ever searched the cupboards for something to eat? People who are truly hungry are even more focused. Jesus say we need to have that kind of hunger for righteousness (or the things God considers to be important).
Jesus restates it, “Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.” When we are “satisfied” we stop working, reaching, and growing.” It is the curse of the “good enough”. Jesus wants His followers to be constantly hungering for a deeper and fuller relationship with God. Soren Kierkegaard addressed the problem with a story:
A duck was flying with his flock in the springtime northward across Europe. During the flight he came down in a Danish barnyard where there were tame ducks. He enjoyed some of their corn. He stayed, for an hour, then for a day, then for a week, then for a month, and finally, because he relished the good fare and the safety of the barnyard, he stayed all summer. But one autumn day when the flock of wild ducks were winging their way southward again, they passed over the barnyard, and their friend heard their cries. He was stirred with a strange thrill of joy and delight, and with a great flapping of wings he rose in the air to join his old comrades in their flight. But he found that his good fare had made him so soft and heavy that he could rise no higher than the eaves of the barn. So he dropped back again to the barnyard, and said to himself, “Oh well, my life is safe here and the food is good.” Every spring and autumn when he heard the wild ducks calling, his eyes would gleam for a moment and he would begin to flap his wings. But finally the day came when the wild ducks flew over him and uttered their cry, but he paid not the slightest attention to them.
This can happen to us. We can become so comfortable in the world that we become spiritually lazy. Probably the greatest indictment of American Christianity is our comfortableness in the world. We don’t see faith that is characterized by sacrifice, diligence, passion or single-mindedness.
Think about two students in school. One is unmotivated. This student is content with passing grades and they have enough ability to pass without much effort. The other student loves learning. This student is less concerned with grades and more concerned with getting an education. The first person reads when they “have to” but the other reads for the joy of it. The first one wants to know “What do we have to know for the test?” The second is filled with questions because they are interested in the subject matter. Which student do you think will excel in the end? Which will truly obtain an education? It’s the one who is “hungry”.
I get the feeling there are a lot of people in the church who simply want to “pass”. They want to look good to others and feel that they have fulfilled the requirements to get to Heaven. Once again the Lord draws attention to the fact that the Christian faith is not about fulfilling certain assignments . . . it is about living in dynamic and intimate relationship with God. The Lord wants us to hunger for a deeper relationship rather than being content with superficial spirituality.
We hear people all the time saying, “I just want to enjoy my life”. There was even a beer commercial that said, “You only go around once in life so grab all the gusto.” These are the people who live for weekend parties. They may do drugs, sleep around, and drink themselves into oblivion. The only question they ask is this: “Will I enjoy it?” These people are always laughing and they frequently talk about all their “great friends”. The problem is that it is empty. It is like the veneer on a piece of particle board. It looks good on the outside but what is on the inside is different.
The pursuit of pleasure is like a drug. We always need a little bit more pleasure to help us get our “high”. Jesus speaks to the “good time mentality” when he says, “Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.” Later he adds, “Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. “
Jesus is not against laughter. In fact, the Bible tells us that laughter is good medicine. Kent Hughes writes,
Jesus does not mean, “Blessed are grim, cheerless Christians,” though some believers have apparently interpreted it this way. The Victorian preacher Charles Spurgeon once remarked that some preachers he had known appeared to have their neckties twisted around their souls. Robert Louis Stevenson must have known some preachers like that because he once wrote in his diary, “I’ve been to church today and am not depressed.”
Jesus speaks against the superficial and shallow laughter that characterizes the world. As believers our joy should come from our relationship with God. The situation of the world is tragic. People are doing all sorts of foolish and sinful things to “feel good.” Sin has caused havoc in life. We should mourn over: disease, injustice that victimizes the weak, child abuse, battered women, the drug culture, the increase of violence, the increase in divorce, and the loneliness and alienation that so many people experience. And certainly we should mourn over the many lost people who will go into eternal darkness without Christ.
In the book of Ecclesiastes Solomon tells us that it is better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting. The reason is that the house of mourning makes us realize the shortness of life. It causes us to address ultimate issues. It strips away the pretend “happy world” in which so many try to hide. The house of mourning forces us to consider what is really important. It points us to the eternal rather than the temporary.
True happiness comes when we are able to look at the sometimes harsh realities of life and rest in the Lord. This joy comes from finding the key to life in Jesus Christ. This happiness is not superficial. This happiness brings forth a laughter that is anchored in joy, security, and the love of God. It is a joy that does not disappear even in the toughest of times.
We all see the power of peer pressure in teenagers. The desire to be accepted and popular can lead kids to do all kinds of dangerous and foolish things. Peer pressure is not only something that effects teenagers. There is nothing wrong with having people like you. The Bible tells us that we should have a good reputation with outsiders. However, the question is: “What are you willing to do to be popular?”
“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. 23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets
Not the key words: “because of the Son of Man”. Jesus is not saying it is good to be disliked. Some people are disliked because of their abrasive personalities. They are not being persecuted for their faith but because they are obnoxious. The blessing comes when we choose to stand with Jesus Christ and others reject us because of that fact. When people dislike you because you are a follower of Jesus, the Lord reminds us that “great is our reward in Heaven”. We have chosen the right path and it will lead to eternal blessing.
I have had very little experience in being “popular” but in those fleeting moments I have discovered that popularity is an illusion. It does not last. Those who celebrate you today will just as easily turn on your tomorrow. The only dependable relationship is with Christ.
A.W. Tozer has written,
We who follow Christ are men and women of eternity. We must put no confidence in the passing scenes of the disappearing world. We must resist every attempt of Satan to palm off upon us the values that belong to mortality. Nothing less than forever is long enough for us. We view with amused sadness the frenetic scramble of the world to gain a brief moment in the sun. ‘The book of the month,’ for instance, has a strange sound to one who has dwelt with God and taken his values from the Ancient of Days. ‘The man of the year’ cannot impress those men and women who are making their plans for that long eternity when days and years have passed away and time is no more.
The church must claim again her ancient dowry of everlastingness. She must begin again to deal with ages and millenniums rather than with days and years. She must not count numbers but test foundations. She must work for permanence rather than for appearance. Her children must seek those enduring things that have been touched with immortality. The shallow brook of popular religion chatters on its nervous way and thinks the ocean too quiet and dull because it lies deep in its mighty bed and is unaffected by the latest shower. The Next Chapter After the Last, 9.
Jesus warns us in verse 26: “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.” When everyone is singing our praise we should be on guard. We should ask, “Are we popular because we have compromised or sold out the gospel?” We should also ask if this popularity has come with a price tag. It is better to be faithful and hated by the world than to be popular at the cost of our soul.
Let’s wrap this all up and draw some application. The first thing we learn is that We must Choose between two worlds: the immediate and the eternal. Here is the question for all of us: “Do you want to be rich, satisfied, enjoy life and be popular?” If we are honest who of us would not say these things are things we desire. I would like to try all of those things. I tend to believe that having these things would make life more enjoyable. I do not believe the desire necessarily sinful.
There are additional follow up questions to ask: First, “Do you want to be rich, satisfied, enjoy life and be popular more than you want to be faithful to Jesus Christ?” The answer to that question will tell you which path is really more important to you. That question will give you a glimpse of who or what you are truly following.
Second, we should ask, “Do I think I would be more significant/valuable (in the world and with God) if I had these things?” If you feel you would be more significant in God’s kingdom because you have riches, you have misunderstood the Bible. The most significant people are those who boldy trust the Lord and who recognize that they can do nothing apart from Him.
Jesus taught us that there are two roads. There is the broad road that leads to destruction and the narrow road that leads to life. We have a choice whether we are going to follow the ways of men or the ways of God. We make that choice many times every day. We can crave the same things everyone else craves and put all our focus on present enjoyments or we can see the big picture and reach for the bigger prize of eternal life with the King. We can live for glory in the present, or in eternity.
The second application is this: we are challenged to look at our lives objectively and ask, “Is my life any different from my non-believing friends?” On the one hand we know that we are just as in need of grace as our friends. However, if we have trusted Christ; if we have really turned to Him, we should be going in a different direction from the rest of the world. If you asked those who know you best whether they see the power of Christ in your life, what would they say if they were honest? Are you just like they are or do they see in the way you live, the values you cherish, and the things you are committed to, the resemblance of Jesus?
The Lord calls us not only to believe (or “make a decision” or “have an experience”) but also to follow. The reason for this is that those who really believe Jesus is the Savior and God in human will eagerly follow Him.
Jesus wants us to enjoy the journey of serving Him in this life however He is much more concerned that we enjoy the destination. May God help us to desire the same thing.