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Sermon on the Mount

Blessings - II

Matthew  5:6-8

Lesson audio

Righteousness

Matthew 5:6 NASB  "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

 

Hunger and Thirst

If you accept the truth of this the attitude you are admitting something most interesting. You do not hunger and thirst after anything you already have. To say that this beatitude is true is to say that you do not have righteousness — but also to say that you will. The Christian understands this fairly clearly; it is clear statement that all of us are sinners. The final cure for this condition will not happen until our Lord returns. This, by the way, is one of several instances in which the beatitude cannot be fully and completely fulfilled until the return of Christ.

Miss Hornbuckle instructed me that words have meaning. In particular, the selection of verbs in your sentences can be highly indicative of hidden meaning. Notice that Jesus did not use the word "want." He used the phrase, "hunger and thirst." It is a stroke of genius in the language. It tells you that it is not sufficient to want righteousness; you have to be passionate about it. It has to be something that consumes your desires — and most important of all, drives out evil desire. Lawrence of Arabia once made the point that most Westerners don't know what hunger and thirst really are. As he had spent several days on a camel with neither food nor water, we may take his point as being one of experience. It's that kind of hunger and thirst that Jesus is talking about.

Why do we need to be so passionate about this? Because only when you hunger and thirst after righteousness do you drive out the opposite sin: covetousness. People who "want" can want many different things, such as the latest fashion, the fastest car, a bigger house and more money. It is precisely because the desire of these things cannot completely consume human desire that we can want so many at the same time. We can want any number of trivial things simultaneously; hunger and thirst limits the field quite a bit.

Righteousness

So how does one achieve righteousness? Remember that to the Jew of this time righteousness would be a legal status. You would achieve such status in one of two ways:

·         First, you can achieve this by making the appropriate sacrifices at the Temple. This is not irrelevant to the Christian; the sacrifice of Christ on the cross replaced those sacrifices — so in a sense we still use the same method.

·         Second, you achieve this by acting righteously. The Jew of this time understood that when you called someone a "good and righteous man" you were not saying that he had never send in his entire life. You were simply commenting on his lifestyle. There are lifestyles of the rich and famous; there is a lifestyle of the righteous too.

The first I leave to the Christian as being obvious. The real problem in our lives is the second method; we want to know how we can achieve a righteous lifestyle. The matter is one of the heart. If you want a righteous lifestyle you must have "right desires." Note, please, that this implies that your desires can be trained. This comes as a shock to the "if it feels good, do it" generation, I know. But it can be done. This has a good deal to do with your state of poverty, as well. If your desires are such that nothing but the Cadillac and mansion will do, you can wind up being very poor and still have a lot of money.

Filled

Christ uses an interesting word for "filled." It's the same one that is used in the expression, "fatted calf." It means an animal that has been stuffed with food. This carries with it the implication that we can indeed be so filled with righteousness. If you've ever had the experience of pushing back from the table after the third piece of Thanksgiving pie, you have a pretty good idea of what this word means. In the same sense that bodily desire implies the existence of something which will fill it, spiritual desire implies the same thing. Christ is not promising us "just enough righteousness." He is promising us a Thanksgiving feast of righteousness. It makes sense, really. Did you expect that God would refuse to gratify the desire of the Christian who wants to be holy? To desire to be holy and righteous is to imitate God; he will always gratify that. Indeed, God's gifts are always greater than our desires could possibly be. If we hunger and thirst for it, we shall receive it — measure for measure, pressed down and running over.

Mercy

Matthew 5:7 NASB  "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

 

A Comparison with Compassion

The reader who does not attend the local church at which these lessons are delivered must pardon this interruption. Our new pastor has proclaimed three values for our church, one of which is, "Unleash Compassion." It is easy to confound mercy and compassion, and therefore we must spend a few moments making the distinction.

Compassion is at its roots a feeling — a "passion" modified by the predecessor "com" whose roots are the same as those of the word "community." It is a feeling; this accords well with the emerging church philosophy that Christianity is primarily an emotional experience. One of the commonplaces of emotions is that they cannot be sustained — but they can be called forth. The mental picture used here is that compassion is within us all the time, but only needs to be called forth or "unleashed." Mercy, on the other hand, is an act of the will. It is something you decide to do not because it feels good (which it usually does) but because it is the right thing to do. If you hunger and thirst after righteousness, you will be merciful – you can't help it.

As a particular point, compassion at our home church is something which is applied to large groups of anonymous people. Compassion for example includes aid to those in the Mathare Valley of Kenya, or those aided by a local interfaith agency giving food and financial aid to the poor.

What Is Mercy?

Mercy is defined somewhat differently. There are two elements possible in mercy:

·         In common with compassion, mercy may mean charity towards the poor. It is not restricted, however, to a group endeavor. Mercy may mean giving money or food or other aid to an individual with whom you are personally acquainted. As defined in our local church, this does not fit under the heading of compassion.

·         Beyond that, mercy may also mean forgiveness.

You might well ask what these two activities have in common that makes them mercy. It is simply this: the beneficiary of mercy, in both of these instances, is often the victim of his own fault. The poor are often poor because of the dumb decisions they've made (or had made for them). When this is something that you are personally acquainted with, it's not uncommon to be angry about it. For example, if your 14-year-old daughter gets pregnant, it's likely that you're going to be upset. In your anger, you may decide to throw her out of the house and have nothing further to do with her. In your mercy, you would provide for her and for the baby. Please note that her pregnancy is not something which is a sin against you, dad. But it sure can make you mad.

Mercy, you see, has an opposing sin in both cases: vengeance. Listen to the various political debates about the poor, for example. How often have you heard that poverty is their own fault, they're just lazy, and what we really need to do is to punish them for being poor so they'll go out and get a job? That's vengeance. It's just a little easier to see when "the poor" really means that 14-year-old.

So of course we come to the question of why vengeance is prohibited. After all, shouldn't we set those poor people straight? Remember what vengeance is: stealing from God. Here's how he puts it:

Romans 12:19 NASB  Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord.

 

If you take vengeance, you take that which God explicitly tells you belongs to him. You are to leave it to the wrath of God — which sometimes is superseded by his mercy. And blessed are the merciful.

Forgive Us Our Debts

So mercy inclines us to forgiveness. As our Lord said, this is a 7 x 70 process. But it's a very profitable one for us — because we exchange human mercy, fallible as it is, for divine mercy which is perfect. The blessing given to us here is not one of an exchange of equal value. Rather, it is an exchange of our best effort for his complete mercy. Valued as a bargain, this is an enormously good deal.

So why is it that so many of us have such trouble being merciful? I suspect it is because we are rather dour about it. Listen to what St. Paul says about it:

Romans 12:8 NASB  or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness.

 

Why do we need mercy with cheerfulness? It's because in most cases of mercy it's easy to see that the problem we are trying to remedy is the other guy’s fault. We can very often say that if they hadn’t been so stupid they wouldn't be in this mess. And we come back to that question of vengeance; what we really want to do is to get even with him for bothering us with his needs. Chrysostom went so far as to say that the man who gives charity (that is, mercy) on behalf of the church should be a cheerful giver – because otherwise he's going to be a real sourpuss really fast. (I am happy to report that the individual responsible for this at our home church is the model of a cheerful giver.)

The Imitation of God

One thing is very certain: the attribute of mercy is a beautiful adornment to the Christian. Nothing so exemplifies the life of God within the Christian as the mercy the Christian shows. Virtually every religion commands mercy; virtually everyone believes that mercy is a good thing, especially when it is the matter of charity. It is the law of the moral world (the universe is a moral place, what goes around comes around) that the merciful deserve and often get mercy.

It's more than that. Let me give you an example. When asked to comment on the subject, Robert E Lee said that he surrendered as much to the mercy of Abraham Lincoln as to the armies of Ulysses Grant. Students of the Civil War know that we could have sparked a guerrilla resistance. Instead he relied on the mercy of Abraham Lincoln. Regrettably, Andrew Johnson was not Abraham Lincoln.

Mercy, you see, is simply a manifestation of our love for others. If you love others, it is hard not to be merciful. And as in all these things, if you call upon God for aid he will be pleased to provide you with the heart of mercy. He is always pleased to help his children grow.

Pure in Heart

Matthew 5:8 NASB  "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

 

Metaphor

By its very definition, the pure heart is difficult to see. Permit me, then, an old metaphor. If you want to see something, you need the right instrument for your vision. If you're looking for bacteria, you need a microscope. If you're looking at stars, a telescope is more appropriate.

Let me give you a word of warning about telescopes. In most sporting goods stores and several other establishments you can purchase what is advertised to be a "3 inch refractor telescope." The lens in this telescope is indeed 3 inches in diameter. But it's a cheap lens, and suffers from what is called chromatic aberration. I won't go into the physics, but what it does is make the various colors form an indistinct image when those colors passed through the edge area of the lens. So they take a ring of cardboard, about an inch in width, and insert in front of the lens. This corrects the chromatic aberration — but also reduces the effective size of the lens. (Telescopes based on mirrors do not have this problem.) The telescope looks fine, but you're not getting what is advertised.

That's the method that many of us want to use to deceive God. We're perfectly willing to look like the right instrument, but on the inside we are cheap and shoddy. Christ is quite clear here: the only instrument that works for seeing God is indeed the pure heart. Sin clouds the telescope looking at God.

So what should we be looking at? Paul puts it this way:

Ephesians 1:18-19 NASB  I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,  (19)  and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe. These are in accordance with the working of the strength of His might

 

If you think this is not particularly useful, examine the three things that Paul says you should be able to see:

·         The first is hope – without which the Christian cannot live.

·         The second is the riches of God's glory. If you cannot see his glory, you are deceived about the values of the universe.

·         And of course there is his power; you need to see just who's in charge here.

Reaction of Purity

Sometimes you need to test: do you really have this purity of heart? There are two men in the Bible will understand the real test of purity quite clearly: Isaiah and Peter. In the sixth chapter of Isaiah, the prophet Isaiah sees the Lord seated on his throne and immediately knows: he is impure. Peter looks at his Lord after calming the sea and asks him to go away because Peter is an unclean man. When you see the purity of God, you know your own impurity. But there is hope; God is abundantly gracious and will deal with the problem within you.

How do you know when he's being successful at it? How do you know when he is making you pure? Here is the biblical test:

Psalms 18:25-26 NASB  With the kind You show Yourself kind; With the blameless You show Yourself blameless;  (26)  With the pure You show Yourself pure, And with the crooked You show Yourself astute.

 

When you can see the purity of God within yourself, shining through, it is evidence that he is working his purity through you. You may find that you become a lot less suspicious; you see the good rather than the evil at first glance.

Of course, it's easy to tell when you don't have purity. Hypocrisy is quite easy to find and quite easy to identify — in everyone but yourself.

At the Resurrection

If you mention purity to the ancient Jew his mind would immediately go to the ritual purification is required for a priest to enter the Temple. If you mention this in the context of seeing God, he would think of the high priest who could go in and see the Ark of the Covenant once a year. But this is only a symbol of what was to come. The fact that it happened once a year was symbolic of an eternal fact to come: once the Lord returns, he will be with us for all of eternity. We will see God. As Job put it,

Job 19:25-27 NASB  "As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, And at the last He will take His stand on the earth.  (26)  "Even after my skin is destroyed, Yet from my flesh I shall see God;  (27)  Whom I myself shall behold, And whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me!

 

Ultimately, the pure in heart will see God at the resurrection — and we will see him face to face. As Paul said,

1 Corinthians 13:12 NASB  (12)  For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.

 

The pure in heart are those who are solid in the faith; they're not looking for a workaround, they are trying to do it God's way. If you are such a person, you will see the unseen things of God today – and know him face to face when Christ returns.

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