I think itís instructive for us to think of the truth as Godís mercy. The mercy of God towards His creation. We remember who we are because of the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. We are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a purchased people, that you should know the praises of Him who has called you out of darkness to His marvelous light; who in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God, which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy (Pet 2. 9, 10). Along the same lines Paul writes to the church at Phillipi: ". . .forgetting those things which are behind, reaching forth to those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." We have a high calling. We are called to a high calling. We are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a purchased people.
How do we remember our high calling? How do we, as Paul says, press toward the mark of the high calling of Christ? Iím sure weíve all asked ourselves this question dozens, thousands of times. Do we hole up with a Bible and a concordance and keep ourselves unspotted from the world? Thatís a leading question, the way it is expressed, but just let me say that thatís what medieval monks did. They did have Bibles and they holed up with them, and itís because those medieval monks holed up with the Bible and copied them over and over and over again that the Bible has been preserved. And the world is better for it. So Iím not decrying holing up with a Bible and a concordance and keeping ourselves unspotted from the world, but surely the high calling of God requires more of us than this. What does the Lord require? To fear the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul, and to love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. Similar advice in Micahís prophecy: "He hath showed thee, o man what is good. What doth the Lord require of thee but to do justly, and to love mercy and to walk humbly with thy God."(Micah 6.8).
Well, you know that the prophecy of Micah and the words of Moses in Deuteronomy were available and read by the Pharisees, Iím sure, and they thought they were doing what the Lord required of them. But in the 23rd chapter of Matthew we read the eight woes, if you will, that Jesus placed on the heads of the Pharisees, concluding like this: "Ye blind guides which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for you make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee! Cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead mensí bones and of all uncleanness. Even so, ye also appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity." I wonít make that judgment against you that Christ made of the Pharisees, but I ask you to consider it for yourself. Each of us knows what goes on in our minds, each of us knows what our appearance is to one another, and each of us knows what heís like inside. The eight woes in Matthew 23 are contrasted with the eight beatitudes which are so familiar theyíre almost trite, but they provide the clue to how we do what the Lord requires.
Seeing the multitude Jesus went up into a mountain and taught the disciples,
calling each : Blessedí:
The poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
They that mourn for they shall be comforted
The meek for they shall inherit the earth
They who hunger & thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled
The merciful for they shall obtain mercy
The pure in heart for they shall see God
The peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God
Those persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
The word blessedí is more appropriately translated, so Iím told by all the authorities, happyí. These verses tell us what state of mind weíre supposed to have if weíre going to do what the Lord requires of us. The first thing Jesus said to those assembled before him was Blessed are the poor in spirití. The record in Luke says, ďBlessed are the poorĒ. The New English Bible translation says, Blessed are those who know their need of Godí. And yet, if you read the Diaglot the word there is poor in spirití. And how are we to understand these words? Happy is the man who is poor in spirit? Psalm 51 provides us with some insight here when David was brought to his knees and overwhelmed with his own sin. David, a man after Godís own heart, had been chosen to lead the children of Israel. To all intents and purposes he had done a wonderful job, believing he was doing what the Lord required of him. He suddenly realized, however, when Nathan the prophet confronted him, that he wasnít doing what God required. He confessed that the sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.
You canít do what He requires unless youíre poor in spirit, unless youíre broken, as David was in spirit. To be poor in spirit should not be taken to mean a craven gutlessness, but a true sense of proportion towards lifeís problems and towards anything achieved by oneís own abilities or endeavors. It signifies a complete lack of satisfaction of self. And with this must necessarily go an utter dependence on God, a positive even more difficult to achieve than the negative just announced. Laodicea, spiritually rich and increased in the goods of Godliness, and in need of nothing, were, however, lukewarm in their fervor for the truth and therefore worthless to Christ who said, "Thou knowest not that thou art wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, because thou knowest not how to be poor in spirit (Rev 3.4). And if you have an accurate assessment of yourself and all your foibles, and all your weaknesses and your utter dependence on God, then you are in a position to think how you can serve Him and do the things He requires.
The verse about mourning is akin to the first beatitude. Itís a paradox. Jesus says, "Happy are you if you mourn, for you will be comforted." We mourn because we see all around us a world full of evil and trouble and problems, starvation and misery and death. And we mourn about it. We mourn about mansí sinfulness. But the first thing youíve got to mourn about is your own dissatisfaction with yourself. You have to realize youíre not part of the solution. If you would do what God requires of you, you have to recognize youíre part of the problem. And youíll always be part of the problem, and youíll never be anything but part of the problem. Hopefully you can help people with the solution. Donít be deceived about what you are mourning about.
Now the meek, in their attitude toward people, have no need for suspicion or self justification. No need to be prickly, constantly on the defensive. The headaches of life are endured without vexation or self pity. And this because the rightsí of the individual have been renounced. He is well content to be a son of God. The most difficult trait of all to acquire is the meekness that trembles at Godís wordí and receives with meekness the engrafted word. There is no student of the Bible who has not committed the sin of refusing to believe just what scripture says, substituting instead the interpretation to which his own inclination leads him. When you read the Bible donít temporize. If it says something about you, believe it, and donít say that it doesnít say that, or donít say even worse "I donít care what it says, this is what I think."
If you hunger and thirst after righteousness youíll be happy. But happiness is not something you hunger and thirst after; itís only by seeking or attempting to achieve laudable goals that happiness comes. The pursuit of happiness is elusive, and the pursuit of laudable goals may be elusive, but whether you ultimately achieve them or not, to hunger and thirst after them is what will bring happiness.
Blessed are the pure in heart. Children can be deceitful and wretched, but children in their purest form want to please their parents and theyíre guileless about it. You can see the pride that a child feels for his parent and his overwhelming desire to please that parent. Sometimes in children thatís what I think of when I think of being pure in heart.
Blessed are those that are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. We havenít been persecuted. Weíve lived in an age, happily, when Christians at least in this country arenít persecuted. And Jesus is not saying here, go out and try to get yourself persecutedí. The verse means, though, when persecution comes have the courage of your convictions. Or have the courage of your convictions to stand up and say what you believe if there is the possibility of ridicule or persecution.
What God requires of us is all wrapped up in the parable of the good Samaritan. A certain man fell among thieves who stripped him of his clothes, wounded him and departed. By chance a certain priest came that way and passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, who also passed by. But a Samaritan came by and when he saw him, he had compassion on him and bound up his wounds. He set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn where he continued to care for the man. When he departed he took out two pence and gave them to the host asking him to take over, and whatever more was spent, the Samaritan would repay. Who was neighbor to the man who fell among thieves? He that showed mercy.
Itís clear in Matthew 25 that weíre supposed to feed the hungry and to take care of the poor and to have mercy on people in a temporal way, as part of this life. We are commanded to do these things as citizens of this world . We have a dual citizenship. Our citizenship is in heaven but we are also part of a society in which we must play our role. The question is how to achieve a balance in oneís life, in doing what we should for our community of men, and doing what one should do with respect to our allegiance to God. The two are not necessarily in opposition, in fact, more often than not, they are in harmony. The greatest gift we have is the knowledge of the gospel. There are more people out there in the world that want to know what we believe than we have any imagination of, Iím convinced of that. All men lead lives of quiet desperation. If we would do what the Lord requires of us, let us preach the gospel.