January 29, 2023
Pastor John Hering
“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them.
He said: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Sometimes people ask you to do things that you’re really not all that comfortable doing, such as, preaching a sermon on a sermon Jesus preached. Or maybe you had to go someplace you didn’t want to go, such as, a Christmas party at work and you can see who are the boss’s favorite employees. We all get invitations to do things we really don’t want to do, or go to places that we really don’t want to go. When you first hear Jesus’ famous “Sermon on the Mount,” you might get that impression. While these words from Jesus rank among some of the most well-known words from the Bible, they are often not comprehended well.
It is always good to know the setting in which Jesus said something. These words are spoken during the second year of Jesus’ ministry when he was very popular. Jesus invited people to follow him and thousands of people were coming out to hear Jesus preach and see his miracles. Jesus was very clear about who he was and what his purpose was on earth. He also explained to them what it meant to follow him. That’s what he is doing in Matthew 5 when he preached this sermon. He was teaching the people what being a “disciple of Jesus” meant. Jesus was healing, feeding and teaching people who were all too eager to jump on board. It was Matthew that also recorded these words, “The crowds were amazed at his teaching, 29 because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law“ (Matt 7:29). As the people spent time with Jesus they started to better understand that being a disciple of Jesus wasn’t just about getting free health care and food. When Jesus’ words began to sink in many people began to say, “I’m not so sure I want to follow Jesus!”
Let me just say it plainly. The truth is that following Jesus has a definite downside. Jesus never tried to hide this fact. Actually, following Jesus made people think of things they liked and weren’t so eager to give up just like you and me. There are thoughts (anger driving, podcasts, pornography) I would like to keep, but I can’t think them with Jesus. There are words (dirty jokes, cursing, potty mouth) I say with my friends, but I can’t say them with Jesus. There are the activities (drunkenness, abuse, selfishness) I would like to keep, but I can’t keep it with Jesus. Sounds like following Jesus means I’ll have to surrender a lot! So, let’s hurry up the mountain-side and listen to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Remember, while we’re up there listening there are going to be people all around us who are also invited to listen to Jesus’ words, but you might hear them say, “I’m not sure I want to follow Jesus.” Maybe sometimes you feel like that, too. But, Jesus knows. Jesus knows the temptations we face and the reasons we might think twice about following him. He knows, and that’s why he doesn’t hide it, but Jesus speaks to you and me about the downside of following him. But, Jesus also shows us the upside and reminds us that….
Happy Is The Person…
Who Trusts the Strength of Jesus
I found it interesting how many times Adam and Eve are mentioned in the Four Gospels. And the answer is: once. Adam is mentioned in Luke 3 as he traced the lineage of Jesus back to Adam. This makes me wonder how often Jesus spoke about the account of creation and the Fall into sin. Maybe Jesus didn’t need to talk about that so much because the Jewish people he was talking to knew those Old Testament Bibles account very well. However, for us to connect the link on the Sermon on the Mount we also need to a good grasp on Creation, Adam & Eve and the Fall. Here’s what I mean:
“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2 and he began to teach them. He said: 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”Matthew 5:1-3
This statement is all about Creation, Adam & Eve and the Fall. Satan came into God’s perfect world and tempted them to eat the forbidden fruit. Perfection was gone in one bite. Sin now broke the connection between people and God. Sin closed the gate of heaven and opened the gate of hell for sinners. Sin also closed the gate of the Garden of Eden and what was on the outside wasn’t at all like living on the inside! But, our merciful God sent his Son to reconnect the link and reopen the gate of heaven. Jesus came to live a perfect life God demanded as payment for the sins of the world (true man), and powerful enough to cover the sins of all people of all time. Jesus did it all. Then God proclaimed this amazing salvation for people who lean on Jesus for their salvation, to be welcomed back into the Garden of Paradise. But, there was a problem. We call it the ”sin-nature.” It means nobody wants to go back into the garden. Satan continues to tempt people to think, “I don’t need Jesus,” or an attitude that thinks, “I can get back into the garden on my own,” or tragically, that there “Really isn’t a New Paradise or hell anyway and Jesus is a waste of time!” But by the Word alone, by Grace alone, and by Faith created in our hearts by the Holy Spirit alone, a whole new attitude was created in you and me. That’s the attitude Jesus was talking about: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” We know what we deserve. We know we can’t do a thing to save ourselves. We have a poor, humble attitude that makes us happy as dearly loved and forgiven children of God!
Do you see how important the account of the Fall in the Garden is? It makes these first statements of Jesus so clear! “4 Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 5 Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” We are happy to mourn over our sins because we are horrified by them, realize what they did to us, and come running back to Jesus for his comfort, love and forgiveness. We are happy to be meek, not proud, because we have come to understand that Jesus turns true happiness/blessedness on its head. Jesus shows us that God’s way is always the right way and so we can follow him quietly and confidently relying on him for everything without questioning his amazing love for us Jesus Christ.
So, shall we try to answer the question again? What does it mean to follow Jesus? Jesus’ followers are poor in spirit, they mourn over their sins, and they meekly rely on Jesus for everything. Not exactly the American way, is it? It sounds like low self-esteem, self-doubt and exactly the kind of thoughts and attitudes people spend lots of money on to try and get rid of! But, Jesus knows better. He knows these attitudes are necessary in order to be a Happy Person Following Jesus, because such person trusts in Jesus’ Strength! And once a person stops relying on their own strength and focuses on Jesus as their Strength then they can understand the next phrase in Jesus’ sermon: We are Happy for “6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” This is the follower of Jesus who says, “I just can’t get enough of Jesus! Jesus gives me hope, peace, life and ultimately joy in heaven!” St. Paul said it like this, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Cor 5:17). Jesus takes a hold of your life and is the power for you to be more and more like Jesus and want what he wants. You won’t ever be perfect at it, but you’ll get to love as Jesus loved, forgive as Jesus forgave, and help others like Jesus helped others. That’s eager to be what God has made you—his dearly loved child Trusting in the Strength of Jesus and…
Who Reflects the Life of Jesus
Sometimes people ask you to go places or do things that you’re really not so excited about doing. Are you ready for me to ask the question again? What Does it mean to follow Jesus? Not only are we trusting in Jesus as our strength, but also it means reflecting the Life of Jesus every day. Are you ready to do that? Jesus promises many blessings to those who Reflect the Life of Jesus. He said, “7 Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 9 Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” These phrases in Jesus’ sermon paint the picture of a follower of Jesus who is reflecting the life of Jesus. Being merciful means fighting against holding grudges and getting even, but works as forgiving people who do them wrong. Being pure in heart means striving to keep our focus on good and godly things instead of things that are indecent and perverse. Being peacemakers means striving to overcome racism and prejudice and making the effort to get along with people around you.
I would imagine everyone here would raise their hands and be ready to Reflect the Life of Jesus in their life. I would call you, “Wonderful!” But, if you do, you also have to be aware that the people you are around in this world will probably call you something else like, “Weak, naïve, timid or maybe even gutless.” The world will tell you that you don’t get ahead of the people in front of you by being concerned about them. But, that’s what Jesus tells us happens when we reflect the life of Jesus. Then we become the Happy Person who cares more about others than one’s self. What? Surrender myself to reflect Jesus’ life? Is that where I go when I go with Jesus? Are you sure you want to follow Jesus? Are you sure you’re going to be happy?
Certainly at this point someone has already thought, “Pastor, do you know remember what Jesus’ enemies did to him?? If I’m going to Trust in Jesus’ Strength and Reflect Jesus’ life, isn’t the world going to ridicule me like Jesus?” Fair enough. But, Jesus doesn’t hide anything in his sermon. Listen:
“10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.”Matthew 5:10-11
It’s clear—If you follow Jesus then people who don’t love Jesus aren’t going to love you either. They will persecute you because you live according to God’s Word. We may not lose our lives like Christians are doing in some countries for following Christ, but we may lose a friend, or miss out on a job opportunity for following him. So, are you ready for the question again? What Does it mean to follow Jesus? Not only are we trusting in Jesus as our strength, but also it means reflecting the Life of Jesus every day. Are you ready to do that? Jesus was clear—following him has an upside and a downside. The downside means surrendering some things like our pride, selfishness, priorities and sinful behaviors. Is that the path you want to walk and follow Jesus? And the answer is…… “Yes!”
And here’s why: “12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Because those who have Jesus have the kingdom of heaven. It has been that way from the beginning in the Garden and will remain that way until Jesus returns again. Happy is Everyone who Trusts in Jesus’ Strength and Reflects Jesus’ Life. Walking with Jesus means we have our shield, our protector, our Savior. And even if it appears that we are losing in this world, we are winning in God’s eyes. Remember what Jesus said to St Paul, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9). That sounds just like Jesus’ sermon. Happy is the person who Trusts in the Strength of Jesus and Happy is the person who Reflects the Life of Jesus. So, are you ready to answer the question? Are you ready to follow Jesus! Yes! Let’s Be God’s Happy people Trusting in the Strength of Jesus, & Reflecting the Life of Jesus and be truly blessed! Amen!