how Jesus began the Sermon on the Mount

[Jesus] said:

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

Matthew 5:2b-3

If I would choose one passage to summarize my life, it might be this, and with a hope so. Jesus begins here, and this is where we need to begin and keep beginning. This is not like a one time thing, and then we move on. It’s something that should always characterize our thought and attitude about ourselves.

We’re ever in need of God’s grace and if we look at our lives honestly, we’ll know that we don’t measure up both in terms of sins of commission as well as omission. That doesn’t mean we excuse ourselves or our sin. But it does mean that we acknowledge our need for ongoing forgiveness of sin through confession, and acknowledge too our utter need of God’s grace to grow spiritually. We should never dismiss or minimize God’s promise to not only forgive our sins, but cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9).

I have often seen Christians who looked down on other Christians or churches as not being “Spirit-filled.” But it has seemed to me over and over again that too often what is exhibited in such attitudes is a demonstration of leaving this saying of Jesus behind. They somehow are beyond that, or maybe to them that only applies to people before they come to Jesus for conversion. Utterly false. I would rather be with the humble, poor in spirit any day, than with the Spirit-filled who have to look down on others. I’m at home with the “poor in spirit,” since I’m most certainly one of them.

At the same time it is the poor in spirit who will actually know more of the work of God’s Spirit in their lives. Especially in terms of “the fruit of the Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-26) as we note that no matter what spiritual gift we might exercise, if it is not exercised with love, it amounts to nothing (1 Corinthians 13). That doesn’t mean we leave the Spirit-given gifts behind, but only that we put first things first.

If we fail to accept the reality that we’re poor in spirit, then we’ll inevitably be proud and compare ourselves with others, favorably for us, of course. Instead we’re to take the way of Jesus who made himself nothing (Philippians 2:7), who was humble in heart (Matthew 11:29). In and through Jesus.

the mystery of Christ’s conception and birth

I was struck this morning by the thought of how Christ was in the womb, soon to be born. The idea that God through a miracle, was fully human, to soon pass through his mother’s womb into the world as a newborn.

That is amazing in itself, a mystery of the faith to be sure. And evident of God’s triunity as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We might say the Father oversaw it all, the Spirit was active in it, and the Son was the human embryo, nine months after conception to be born.

It is amazing, but somehow tied to God’s amazing work in our own lives.

Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:

He appeared in the flesh,
was vindicated by the Spirit,
was seen by angels,
was preached among the nations,
was believed on in the world,
was taken up in glory.

 

what we celebrate at Christmas

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

John 1:14a

Christmastime is special for the church in that we remember and celebrate the coming of the Messiah. And as no more than a little baby, but no less than God. “God in the flesh.” God become human, the God-Man, the God-Human.

This means that God in the Person of the Son became fully human, one of us. So that God knows our struggles firsthand, in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15).

Our Savior. Our Lord. The one hope of the world. That’s what we Christians celebrate at Christmas. No less and no more. In and through Jesus.

“God is good” confirmed by the incarnation and resurrection

The claim that God is good is seen over and over again in the Bible. And God’s people took it by faith that such was the case, seen in God’s mighty acts, such as the deliverance of Israel from the Egyptian army by the parting and collapse of the Red Sea. So they could take it be faith that such was the case, God demonstrating it by signs and wonders for the protection and preservation of his people

But ultimately it would be challenging to make a case that God is good if we didn’t have the rest of the story. After all, God’s people did not live up to their calling, even after their return from exile. And generation after generation came and went essentially doing no better. Even with God’s calling and help, humans would inevitably fail him.

Enter into this picture something that was never imagined. The God, yes the God actually becoming completely human. Unfathomable, something that doesn’t make the least bit of sense. And yet true. Shockingly true. What in Christian theology is called the Incarnation: God becoming flesh, or human through the Son coming into the world, born of a woman in miraculous conception by the Holy Spirit, yet no different than any other fetus. Though still God, completely human.

In that we see how seriously God takes our plight. God comes to our rescue, not from the outside, but from inside, becoming one of us. God-with-us, yes, but as one of us. Of course without sin, and a unique being indeed: God-human. Completely human with undiminished deity, but human. To show us by his life and teaching how he is the fulfillment of God’s promise to bring in God’s kingdom. Jesus.

But this happens in another completely unexpected, unanticipated way: Through Jesus’s death on the dreaded, despised Roman cross, would come God’s breakthrough to defeat Satan, more than save humanity, and ultimately bring in a new world through the new creation. That death spelled the end of death through Jesus’s resurrection from the dead.

“God is good” is thus confirmed, which means we can thank God for every blessing, knowing that what we see now with all the danger and despair is not the end. God’s goodness will leave nothing untouched in the end through the full judgment and salvation Jesus achieved at the cross, when he returns. All the repentant, believing, faithful will know that all is well, at last fully at home in the eternal life and new creation of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In and through Jesus.

a truly Christ-centered life is for others

…in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

Philippians 2:3b-4

We’re naturally centered in ourselves. That’s understandable. From birth, while babies hopefully bond with their mothers and fathers, they understandably live an existence within themselves, completely dependent on others to take care of their needs, and it’s a need centered existence. Hopefully with healthy bonding, growth beyond “just me” begins.

But too often in our sin and brokenness our existence is all about us, and our world revolves around what we want, and anything other than that we simply put up with, or try to make it somehow satisfy us.

Christ exemplified something completely different. In becoming one of us, even made, so partaking of our lowly humanity, Christ chose to live not only where we live, but completely in our existence. Becoming human was the way for God to reveal himself in the most personal, intimate way, again both right where we live and in our very experience.

Christ took on himself the nature of a servant being made human. He willingly out of love for us and the Father took the lowest place of slave. And then stooped to the lowest depths in the death of the cross. Our attitude toward each other is to be the same.

So often when we’re engaged in life it’s really centered on us. We make it about us. To Christ it was about others. In a conversation we enter in with our corroborating experience, or maybe so we think. But it then becomes about us. And often people trade off back and forth that way. That actually can be okay if at the same time we’re fully engaged in what the other is saying about themselves. And it’s good if we can just listen and let them talk on, and then maybe offer something from our own experience which might help them in some way.

But the point of this great passage and Christ hymn is that we’re to live with each other in the same way Christ lived with us.

Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

 

a newer venture: finding rest and strength in Jesus through his invitation

At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this is what you were pleased to do.

“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:25-30

I was intrigued recently to see a connection in the gospel according to John between our following Jesus, and Jesus following the Father. Seems that what Jesus practiced (I would even say, learned) from the Father was kind of a way of discipleship, that the Father led him in the same way that Jesus leads us. So that our discipleship in following Jesus is rooted in Jesus’s discipleship in following the Father (John 15:9-10; 17:18-19). Jesus was entirely devoted to God, and worshiped God as a human. Yet never ceased being God himself, so that Jesus’s devotion to the Father was nothing new within the eternal Triunity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. As we see from John’s gospel account that devotion was indeed reciprocated. But that in no way lessens the significance of Jesus’s complete learning from the Father as a human here on earth in this present life. Jesus’s invitation needs to be seen in that backdrop.

But again, for me this is a recent revolutionary development after decades of being a Christian. Not to say I haven’t entered into this many times along with all other believers. But with the possibility that we might be enabled by God’s grace and the Spirit to actually learn to live in this from day to day. Jesus’s invitation seems similar to that which he gave his disciples. It wasn’t meant to be just a one time event, but day after day after day. Of course they were with him nearly three years daily, but what he was promising them here was something even closer and more intimate, we might say, his presence with them and more by the Spirit after his ascension.

Who of us does not become weary and burdened by what often seems to be the relentless and crushing responsibilities of life? There’s so much we can’t control, not the least of which what other people might do. With that the mistakes we make along the way, and it goes on and on. But our Lord’s invitation remains: We’re simply to come to him as those weary and burdened with the promise that he will give us rest. We’re to take his yoke on us and learn from him as those beside him. He is gentle and humble in heart, and we will find rest for our souls. His yoke is easy and his burden is light. We will gain strength to do what we’re called to do in and through him, even through his direct tutelage and walk in his presence with us by the Spirit.

There’s more I would like to share connected with my own story and endeavor to live in this reality. But I end it here, at least for now. Something offered to everyone in and through Jesus.

 

face to face

I have much to write to you, but I do not want to use paper and ink. Instead, I hope to visit you and talk with you face to face, so that our joy may be complete.

2 John 12

I have much to write you, but I do not want to do so with pen and ink. I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.

Peace to you. The friends here send their greetings. Greet the friends there by name.

3 John 13-14

An interesting experience I had a few years back, I quit reading from the psalms at lunch and sat at a table with co-workers that were friends, but whom I could hardly understand or altogether identify with. It became actually like a born again experience. I developed a bond with that group. They graciously included me, and I learned much from that, although I think it was more than that. It was an actual transforming kind of experience. There is nothing that replaces a face to face encounter and ongoing time with people.

And I’m not just talking about infrequent visits, though if that’s the best we can do because of circumstances, it certainly does not lack in value. There needs to be commitment to get together and just be together. Nothing spectacular, just be together. And with friends, warts and all.

John wrote to the church, and that certainly has extraordinary value in that it’s now a part of scripture. Pastors teaching the counsel of God from scripture continues to have transformative power on listeners who are intent to follow through since after all, it is the written word of God. But there’s nothing like being face to face, maybe over coffee. And practicing that over time.

What we remember this Advent, and celebrate at Christmas, the Incarnation, Emmanuel: God-with-us in the Christ child. Truly amazing. But sets the pattern for what needs to be priority to us as Christians. Yes, we share in words. But with each other, in a true sense sharing ourselves. Simply being present; Christ present with us. God with us in all of this, in and through Jesus.