Go Make a Difference Today!

Help Others

I love these two stories from earlier this month. They both remind me of the difference we can make in people’s lives if we just take the time to care. The first is about a teenager who goes to Target before a job interview, and the second is about a man who walked to work for years. Read what happens to both of these individuals because people cared and decided to make a difference in their lives.

Teen Goes to Target for Tie and Gets More

Detroit’s Walking Man Gets New Car

Both of these stories remind me of three important traits Jesus’ disciples should possess:

  • To make a difference, we must see those around us (don’t be distracted or too self-focused);
  • To make a difference, we must sacrifice (It will cost you something);
  • To make a difference, we must be motivated by our Savior (Jesus lived this way!).

Notice how the Scriptures regularly describe Jesus:

“Seeing the people, He felt compassion for them, because they were distressed and dispirited like sheep without a shepherd.” (Matthew 9:36 NASB)

So go today and make a difference in the name of Jesus.

RA

The First Beatitudes: A Christian is Like . . .

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Let’s begin today by examining the first two Beatitudes. As we get started, it’s important to remember two things:

  • The best way to think of the word “blessed” as it was originally meant is to translate it as “God approves of and is with those . . .”;
  • The Beatitudes should not be thought of as requirements in order to receive God’s blessings, but traits of God’s people because they are part of the kingdom and already “blessed”.

Matthew 5:3

“God approves of and is with those who are spiritually bankrupt, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (My translation)

Read this passage again, and as you dwell on it, observe these facts:

  • This passage is not speaking specifically about the economically poor. They could be in this group, but it’s not only them. It’s about the “spiritually poor”;
  • The term for “poor” (or as I translated it “bankrupt”), is not the typical term for the poor, or those short of money. The term Jesus used is of the destitute – those who have nothing and are completely dependent upon others just to eat!

I believe the truths of this Beatitude are fittingly demonstrated in a parable Jesus told which is recorded in Luke 18:9-14. Jesus tells us a story about two men who come to the temple to pray – a Pharisee and a tax collector. Another way to see this is to think of a highly respected man of the town, and a villainous crook: that is how the people of Jesus’ day viewed a Pharisee and a tax collector.

Let’s examine the passage to see how each of them prayed:

“The Pharisee took his stand and was praying like this: ‘God, I thank You that I’m not like other people —greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.’” (Luke 18:11-12 HCSB)

How would you describe his prayer? Does he confess any sin? Does he worship God? Does he request anything for anyone else? No! All he does during his prayer is compare himself with other people, reminding God how much better he is than everyone else (also notice how many “I”s are in those two verses!).

And then, notice how the tax collector prayed:

“But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, turn Your wrath from me—a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13 HCSB)

In contrast, the tax collector is not worried about anyone else because he can’t escape his own dire plight! He is ashamed of himself, sorrowful for his sinful actions, and begs for God’s mercy and atonement to cover and remove the consequences of his sins, which he fully deserves to bear!

Is it any wonder the parable ends this way. . .

I tell you, this one [the tax collector] went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14 HCSB)

Now, as we return to the Beatitude, how are the “spiritually bankrupt” truly blessed? As the parable reveals, anyone not spiritually bankrupt doesn’t really need God. It is only when we are at the end of our rope, and we’ve hit rock bottom, that we recognize our need for a savior! And, contrary to what the world may say, this person is truly blessed because God has made salvation possible and is with them forever! That is what the last phrase “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” means. Think of it this way: you may not have anything, but if you’re blessed, you really have everything you need in this life and the one to come. Why? This person is truly blessed because they’re a citizen of the kingdom of heaven and displaying the power of God as alive and active in their life right now!

Matthew 5:4

“God approves of and is with the mourning ones, for they shall be comforted.”

It should be noted that some scholars see a progression between the first Beatitude and this one. If you are spiritually bankrupt, then you will truly mourn. The word here “mourn” refers to grieving over a death or of a great loss.

But what is Jesus saying about his followers in this Beatitude?

  • Our sin should cause us to mourn.
  • The evil and suffering we see in this world should cause us to mourn;
  • The injustice we see in the world should cause us to mourn.

In short, once we become a citizen of the kingdom, where God’s rule on this planet has begun in us, now we should see things from God’s perspective. Consequently, we recognize the sheer audacity and rebellion that our sin is, how evil in all its ugly forms has manifested itself in this world that was once deemed “very good”, and lastly at every triumph of injustice, we mourn until the final day when righteousness will ultimately and absolutely triumph!

And I love the promise attached to this Beatitude: those who mourn “they will be comforted”. In the original language, this phrase is known as a divine passive meaning that God himself will comfort his people, both in the present, but especially in the future.

So notice what Jesus is saying about his followers: God’s people mourn, but. . .

  • We are still hopeful trusting in the sovereign God;
  • Our mourning does not turn to despair because we will be comforted;
  • In the face of injustice, we seek to bring justice, empowered by His Spirit.

Now that is someone who is truly blessed!

RA

Lessons from the Master’s Greatest Message

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As the New Year has begun, I’ve sense in myself a pervasive longing this year to specifically know and meditate on the teachings of Jesus. What better way to gain that perspective than studying and meditating on perhaps his greatest message ever – the Sermon on the Mount – as recorded in Matthew 5-7 (a smaller version is also in Luke 6 but we’ll focus on Matthew).

I believe scholar John Stott was correct when he said, “The Sermon on the Mount is probably the best-known part of the teachings of Jesus, though arguably it is the least understood, and certainly it is the least obeyed.”

Ouch, that’s uncomfortable but it’s true, isn’t it?

What I appreciate about Jesus’ most famous sermon is twofold:

  • I love how it reveals and positions Jesus as the fulfillment of the Old Testament, consequently demonstrating the beautiful unity between the two testaments. Some have even speculated the Sermon on the Mount presents Jesus as the new Moses, yet absolutely greater in every way!
  • I love how the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t just present believers with a futuristic ethical demand, but it lays out a lifestyle that Christians can and should be living now, thanks to the in-breaking of the kingdom of God in the life of every believer. Stanley Hauerwas aptly says the Sermon on the Mount “is not a list of requirements, but rather a description of the life of a people gathered by and around Jesus.”

But before we begin our study, I’d like to discuss two critical questions: to whom is the Sermon on the Mount directed towards, and what does the word “blessed” really mean.

To begin, let’s read Matthew 5:1-4:

“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. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (NIV)

As this passage tells us, the Sermon on the Mount was spoken to many people, but it was specifically for his disciples. Matthew 5:1 has the first recorded use of the term “disciple” in Matthew’s gospel. As almost everyone knows, Jesus had 12 disciples he chose and invested in during his ministry, but he would soon have many more disciples as the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 is obeyed and fulfilled.

But what is a disciple? According to how Jesus interacted with his disciples, and its use in Scripture, here are a few important descriptions as to what a disciple is:

  • A disciple is a ‘learner’, a ‘follower’, as the derivation of the word reveals;
  • A disciple separates himself from the crowd, as we see in 5:1;
  • A disciple has a personal relationship with his master;
  • A disciple lives a life marked by thought and obedience (learning from the master and obeying his instructions).

The problem today is the church has too many “Christians” (supposedly?) and not enough genuine disciples! In other words, lots of people are “saved”, but are they growing in their faith, using their gifts for the kingdom, and a host of other critical traits that should mark every true disciple? According to the Scriptures (especially Matt. 28:19-20), we were never instructed to “make” Christians. We are called to make “disciples” as one can see by how Jesus describes what a disciple is, and the fact that the word Christian is only used three times in the New Testament, but the word disciple is used over 260 times!

I appreciate how Dallas Williard described a disciple both in the New Testament and for today. Willard, in his classic book The Divine Conspiracy, translated the word disciple as an “apprentice”. He once said, “But if I am to be someone’s apprentice, there is one absolutely essential condition. I must be with that person . . . If I am Jesus’ disciple that means I am with him to learn from him how to be like him.” (italics mine, p. 276) Undoubtedly, Jesus is concerned with making disciples who are in a vibrant relationship with him, growing more and more like him each day.

That is what the Sermon on the Mount will help us to become – genuine disciples looking like our Master because his life is seen in all we do!

The next question I’d like to investigate is what does it mean to be “blessed”? This is worthy of discussion because the Sermon on the Mount begins with a section famously dubbed “The Beatitudes”. Does this sound familiar?

“Blessed are the poor in spirit . . .”

“Blessed are the meek . . .” etc.,

One of the challenges with the Beatitudes is scholars aren’t even sure how to translate this word “blessed”. Notice a few attempts at Matthew 5:3:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit . . . (NIV and others)

“God blesses those who are poor . . . (NLT; CEV)

“Happy are people who are hopeless . . . (CEB, LB)

 “Wonderful news for the poor and humble . . . (N. T. Wright)

Do you see the challenge here? As we attempt to translate this word and concept into English, what is it telling us? In today’s culture, to say you’re blessed in most cases means you’re rich, or things are going well and somehow you’re “lucky” or “fortunate.” Is that what Jesus meant by the word here in the Sermon on the Mount?

I don’t think so. Here’s why.

  • The word “blessed” derives from a root meaning ‘to become long, or large’. Consequently in this context it relates to growth, specifically in reference to how one is changed by someone and/or something.
  • The use of this word is based on a relational aspect – you are “blessed” because of a relationship!
  • A person who is “blessed” is in an enviable position because in some way you are the recipient of divine favor. That is how you ‘become large’ or ‘grow’ because God has extended his grace and favor to you. So notice at least biblically speaking, to be “blessed” is not just declaring you are ‘happy’ or ‘fortunate’, but is objectively declaring God approves who you are as exemplified by how you’re living!
  • You can be “blessed” regardless of your circumstances (notice the typical cultural definition today is the exact opposite!). So circumstances don’t verify you’re blessed; it is the presence of Christ in your life that does!
  • Ideally, the best translation for this word is “God approves and is with those who are poor in spirit . . .”

I hope this helps as we begin this new study! May all of us be “blessed” as we learn from Jesus’ greatest sermon!

RA