the first of the “blessed”: the poor in spirit

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:1-3

To be “poor in spirit” doesn’t seem a good place to be. Wouldn’t one want just the exact opposite? Jesus starts out his great Sermon on the Mount with the notice that such people are blessed.

I can well imagine the consternation, or at least wonder when some people read this. I do think most could easily reconcile themselves to the thought that this is a good place to start. But Jesus didn’t exactly say that. He simply said that such are blessed.

Going down the list of what is called the Beatitudes, those who are blessed seems to indicate that this is a present condition Jesus was referring to, even an ever present condition.

I can easily compare myself to the someones who seem brimming over with life, full of joy, always with a ready smile, and praise to God on their tongues. To compare myself with others is the first fallacy. To judge them would be another error.

No. I simply need to accept the obvious reality about myself: I am indeed poor in spirit, poor spiritually in and of myself. And to accept Jesus’s words about that condition, that then I am blessed, because the kingdom of heaven meets me there.

make disciples

Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

The command Jesus gave is to the apostles. Most agree that this command extends to the church today. It’s what the church is to be about, and what we’re to become. Not just believers, but followers of Christ.

This is done in a number of ways, but relationships seem much more important than many of us have imagined. Baptizing and teaching are clearly important, as the text indicates. We can’t minimize that for a moment. When one looks at Jesus’s life one finds that he spent a good majority of his time interacting with people, especially with his twelve disciples, called apostles.

To be a disciple is to follow Christ’s teachings, to follow Christ himself, to follow the teachings of those designated to be his apostles as given to them by Christ through the Spirit. For us today that essentially means what we call “the New Testament.” We’re to be well versed in that, and if we are, then we’ll have respect for “the Old Testament,” in being foundational to the fulfillment in Christ.

To be a disciple is to be a learner, but it’s not just head knowledge, but a way of life. The heart of which is love to God and to one’s neighbor.

This is what the church is to be about. Nothing more, nothing less. In and through Jesus.

against the heresy of prosperity gospel teaching

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 people 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 ancestors 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 everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

Luke 6:20-26

I hardly know where to turn first for a Scripture refuting the popular heretical teaching that Jesus wants you to be healthy and wealthy. I certainly believe that those who follow Jesus tend to do better in life in the United States. They won’t blow what they make on addictions, and will try to do what they can to take care of their families. But if you live in many places in the world, this becomes difficult, because Christians are marginalized at best, and persecuted at worst.

The idea that all is to be happy and great now is not rooted in the Bible, in the gospel accounts, or what follows. I challenge anyone who thinks otherwise to simply start reading Scripture, beginning with the gospel of Matthew, and put aside everything else. Just read what Scripture says, not what some popular preacher or one purporting to be a Christian teacher says. Read Scripture and ask questions, the hard questions included.

Prosperity gospel teaching is heretical. Heresy is what is opposed to the plain teaching of Scripture, recognized by the church through the Spirit. The way of Jesus is not living it up in this world, but the way of the cross. Or did my Bible change? I think not.

Either we can be like Jesus, or the world. Following Jesus like Paul and the apostles did. There’s nothing in between, although I think that’s where many of us drift. Instead of double mindedness, we need to find our way in Jesus. Read the New Testament, then read the Old Testament, and the New Testament again. And see just how true this is. In and through Jesus.

not giving up

Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.

Luke 18:1

The point Jesus was making in the parable was that rather than give up, his disciples should always pray. Straightforward enough? The parable is followed with an application and challenge.

He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’

“For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!’”

And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?”

Luke 18:2-8

Oftentimes we give up because we haven’t prayed, but have tried to solve the problem or bring about the outcome ourselves. One of the key things I’ve learned all too late is to get out of the way and just pray, pray, and pray some more. And watch God’s answer come, maybe oh so slowly in forming an answer which might take months and years.

Jesus would seem to be suggesting that we will either be people of ongoing prayer or else we’ll lose heart and despair. It’s either give up, or pray.

Our tendency is toward prayerlessness just as Jesus might be implying when he asks if at his return there will be faith on the earth. When I’ve given up and lost hope, it’s then I need to start a path in the opposite direction by simply praying. It will take time, but we’ll begin to see a change in ourselves before we see the change were looking for in answer to our prayers. Prayer will make the needed difference toward blessing in other people’s lives, even as we are changed in the process from those who have given up to those who believe in God’s goodness, and don’t stop looking to him in prayer for his answers.

It’s our choice. Either pray or simply give up.

simply believing in Jesus in John’s gospel account

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.

John 20:30-31

In John’s gospel account, the NIV translates the Greek word πιστεύω “believe” (or a tense of that) 84 times. To believe in John is to believe Jesus’s message which is a call to believe in him, that he is the one to come, the Messiah and Son of God (which are equivalents in the gospels), and to entrust oneself to him. John’s gospel account is full of sayings of Jesus pointing people to himself, like “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” “I am the bread of life.” “I am the good shepherd.” “I am the light of the world.” “I am the resurrection and the life.” “Before Abraham was born, I am.”

And then there’s the signs, Jesus’s miracles, or mighty works. Throughout John, seven major signs. Jesus appealed to them when people didn’t believe in him. He said, “Even if you don’t believe me, believe the works themselves, that you may know that I’m in the Father, and that the Father is in me.”

Simply believing might be underrated in churches and Christians circles at times. The kind of faith our Lord refers to though is more than just believing so as to be drawn in. It refers to a commitment based on our Lord’s words, which call for nothing less than that. The idea that Christianity and Christian ethics is just about one’s works and not what one believes is so far divorced from actual Christianity. Completely foreign to Scripture, and John’s gospel. Of course works in a change of life follow. An indispensable part of the faith offered to us in and through Jesus.

 

feel the emotion

John 10 (and note John 9 preceding it) is an interesting example of a point made in one of John R. W. Stott’s excellent books, Christ the Controversialist. Jesus was up against it time and time again, against his Jewish opponents. Yet you can see throughout that Jesus is still humbly trying to make his appeal to them. But his words were loaded for them. Jesus noted his works which he attributed to the Father, pointing to the claim that he was in the Father and the Father in him.

John 8 is not children’s bedtime reading so to speak. Jesus is not the meek and mild fictional Jesus which is understood in society at large, and it seems even in many of our churches. Jesus doesn’t mince words, and the words said would never be put in Jesus’s mouth in popular portrayals of him. Like “you are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father, you want to do.”

But back to John 10. In our habit of marking down doctrine or precious promise passages, neither of which we should dismiss, we can easily miss context. What can help us is reading Scripture in real life, and realizing what we’re reading is couched in real life. Jesus’s opponents were emotional, but so was Jesus himself. Jesus’s following words were surely mixed with pathos in the form of grief in lament, along with perhaps something of a defensiveness, even as we was trying to defend the truth that he was from God.

I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me,is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.

John 10:25-30

 John’s entire gospel was written to underscore the truth of who Jesus is.

But watch for the real life emotion in passages. What can help us is the emotion we live with. And we need the Spirit and what the church has given us, as well. As we continue on in Scripture and in this life in and through Jesus.

building our lives on Jesus’s teaching

“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.”

Luke 6:46-49

A sometimes, maybe even often neglected aspect of Jesus’s ministry is his teaching. Healing and miracles, and of course Jesus’s death and resurrection are usually front and center, especially the latter. But Jesus’s teaching can easily be relegated almost to a footnote. Not to mention there are those who see Jesus’s gospel of the Sermon on the Mount, here in the passage above, the Sermon on the Plain, as law, something only to help us see our need of the Savior since we can’t keep it, in direct contradiction to our Lord’s words above (also Matthew 7:24-29). God in his grace in Jesus not only forgives us for what we’re unable to do, but enables us to do what left to ourselves, we can’t. Otherwise the plain words of scripture would make little or no sense. And at worst, Jesus’s words would be misleading, which we know is not the case.

The storms of life do come and go, but if our lives are built on the solid foundation of Christ, which includes his teachings, then we’ll withstand all of that, and in the end still stand. Not the case, sadly, for those who fail to build their lives on Christ. We build not for this old world with its values, destined to perish, but for the new world present already in Christ, and to someday take over in a new heaven and new earth. In and through Jesus.