Kingdom Dwellers

When Jesus saw the crowds, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. 2 He opened His mouth and began to teach them, saying, 3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. 5 “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. 6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. 7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. 8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. 9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. 10 “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11 “Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. Matthew 5:1-12

I’ve heard countless messages on the Beatitudes in my lifetime, from touchy-feely illiterated gloss-overs to deep-diving didactic dissections. The former weren’t remotely close to what Jesus was really getting at, and the latter left my head spinning and a little less than blessed.

These ten observations are the preamble to the so-called Sermon on the Mount, which really wasn’t delivered atop a mountain, but on a level place on a hill. And it wasn’t delivered to twelve souls but to a throng of followers. And it didn’t come way early in Jesus’ ministry, as you might think just reading Matthew, but after a trip to Jerusalem and the calling of the twelve. So right off the bat you’ve been forced to dispel false notions. But it’s wise to cut it straight. Proper exegesis is required in Bible study, like it or not.

This being said, we move on to a simple read of these popular sayings. If you come from the standpoint of truly wishing to follow Christ, having given up everything worldly to become a Kingdom dweller, now getting all sustenance from him and hanging on his every word, and suffering what he suffered, and now aspiring to what he aspired to while treading this earth, then it’s possible to walk away from the familiar freshly blessed.

You’ll be the kind of poor he’s talking about, with pockets inside out, declaring spiritual bankruptcy. You’ll be pained by your shortcomings and failures and evil errant thoughts and prideful motivations. You’ll be way too vulnerable in an unforgiving and wretched world as you counter-intuitively render care and concern for the lost, and possess a spiritually charged empathy that constantly brings you to tears. You’ll never seem to want to push away from the Lord’s table, wanting seconds and thirds always. And you’ll never quench your thirst for the springs of life. You’ll find it incredibly hard to hold anything against anybody, and you’ll wonder why you pity someone that’s despicable, but you do. You’ll quickly run away from evil like Joseph did with Potiphar’s wife, applying all the spiritual power you can muster to keep your eyes from straying to the left or right. And you’ll find yourself uncharacteristically straight-arming two who are at odds, mediating with words of reason and wisdom, staring them down with the piercing eyes of Jesus. Yes, you’ll put yourself out there for the cause of Christ, taking the same blows he did, receiving the same hateful ugly insults, turning the other cheek.

But through it all, you’ll be as happy and peaceful as Stephen was, even as the stones rained down on him. And the images of heaven that you’ll see will make you smile.

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Read All About It

17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 18 Now as Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon who was called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. 19 And He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 Immediately they left their nets and followed Him. 21 Going on from there He saw two other brothers, James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother, in the boat with Zebedee their father, mending their nets; and He called them. 22 Immediately they left the boat and their father, and followed Him. 23 Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. 24 The news about Him spread throughout all Syria; and they brought to Him all who were ill, those suffering with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, paralytics; and He healed them. 25 Large crowds followed Him from Galilee and the Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan. Matthew 4:17-25

Old movies would depict the passage of time and growing notoriety with spinning newspaper headlines. You can visualize the bold letters in Jesus’ case: Teacher Heals Paralyzed Man. Hundreds Make Trek to Galilee. The Message Behind the Miracles.

With a ragtag entourage of unlikely associates–not advance men, mind you–Jesus drew the sick from Syria to the north, Judea to the south, from ten cities comprising Decapolis around Galilee, and from beyond the Jordan River to the east. He was a virtual sensation. And he was stumped by no sickness or disease.

Undoubtedly, he shared the good news of the earthy presence of Kingdom of God–himself, if you read between the lines–to all who came, punctuated by authenticating miracles.

But did they get it, there being a big, big catch, namely, repentance (v. 17)?

Seeing the end of the movie, not exactly.

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Held in Suspense

12 Now when Jesus heard that John had been taken into custody, He withdrew into Galilee; 13 and leaving Nazareth, He came and settled in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the region of Zebulun and Naphtali. 14 This was to fulfill what was spoken through Isaiah the prophet: 15 “The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, by the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles—16 “The people who were sitting in darkness saw a great Light, and those who were sitting in the land and shadow of death, upon them a Light dawned.”17 From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:12-17

For a tax collector, Matthew really knew his Bible. But if you knew Jesus was the Messiah, and you were aware of what was prophesied about him, and you lived with him day in and day out, a thinking person could put two and two together.

Matthew’s gospel was his project of matching what was foretold about the Messiah with what he knew about Jesus from first-hand experience. It might have grown tiring, in fact, to be Matthew’s buddy–since they did disciple things two by two–to keep hearing him matching up what was written with what he was seeing. The response was probably, “When this is all over, you need to write a book about it.” And he did.

In this case, Zebulun and Naphtali–not exactly in the Bible Belt–were treated to the Light of the World. Matthew says, “I could have told you that.”

So, a thinking person should read ahead in the book and see what happens. It’s not like it’s a mystery. In tale-telling, they call it a suspense, and they normally have a thrilling conclusion.

Well, if you’ve read ahead, you know all that.

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Hanging on Every Word

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after He had fasted forty days and forty nights, He then became hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to Him, “If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread.” 4 But He answered and said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:1-4

Much is written about Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness. Scholars see many allusions to Israel (for example the importance of the number 40), or certain phrases like, “If you are the Son of God, then…” (come down from the cross).

As with other familiar Bible passages, I try to find something new. Here what strikes me is the phrase, “but on every word.” Without serious study, it’s safe to assume Satan, by his nature, picks and chooses Bible truths to contrive his purposes. What he says rings true, but it defies an overarching or foundational truth. That’s why Jesus says we need to live on every word that proceeds from God’s mouth, not just a convenient few.

28 And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. Romans 8:28

A perfect example is quoting Romans 8:28. Some will offer these comforting words, “You know, all things work together for good.” This leaves out the key point that precedes this familiar bromide, that God causes all things to work together for good. And the verse goes on to qualify the statement further.

The lesson is to know the word. No one did this as well as Jesus–of course–and he was victorious in his bout with Satan, and we can be too.

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New Beginnings

13 Then Jesus arrived from Galilee at the Jordan coming to John, to be baptized by him. 14 But John tried to prevent Him, saying, “I have need to be baptized by You, and do You come to me?” 15 But Jesus answering said to him, “Permit it at this time; for in this way it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he permitted Him. 16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on Him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.” Matthew 3:13-17

16 But the eleven disciples proceeded to Galilee, to the mountain which Jesus had designated. 17 When they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some were doubtful. 18 And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:16-20

It’s interesting and instructive to recognize the similarities between the launching of Jesus’ ministry, and the commissioning of ours. He made disciples, and that’s also our mission. He set the pattern for water baptism, and we are to go forth baptizing the disciples we’ve made. The Father and Holy Spirit were present at Jesus’ baptism, and we are to baptize in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Perhaps most important, Jesus and John were both obedient to fulfill “all righteousness” in what they were doing (despite John’s mild protests), and “believer’s baptism” is undergone in obedient response to an ordinance of the faith following salvation.

Jesus was already the Son of God before he went under, and we are already saved when we stir the waters. But we do it, as Jesus did, to outwardly pledge our allegiance to the Father, and He is well pleased.

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Something to Ponder

18 And all who heard it wondered at the things which were told them by the shepherds.
19 But Mary treasured all these things, pondering them in her heart. Luke 2:18-19

Encounters with God are amazing, yes, but they’re meant for us to meditate on the true essence of his nature and his eternal purposes, and how they apply to us personally.

We should all aspire to be a Mary, to see past the obvious and equate what is newly learned with what is already known.

Every time we do this it strengthens our faith and fortifies our theology. In the end, we possess a treasure trove of valuable evidence of an amazing God.

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The Story of Christmas

And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. Luke 2:7

Shepherds

It was go time in heaven. The ultimate, “Let’s do this people” moment, with angelic actors scurrying about behind the scenes. But what, this fantastic news dispatched to lowly shepherds? Are you kidding me? But the angels’ instructions came from on high.

The scene quickly transitioned from the lowly manger to the lonely fields, now illuminated by a gleaming  unnamed angel messenger (why not Gabriel?) who outshined that unusually large star in the sky.

But that’s God’s style, to pass on the high and mighty, and use the most unlikely actors in the most unlikely settings. Like a lowly virgin and lowly carpenter from lowly Nazareth huddled around a lowly manger with a lowly baby.

But it makes perfect sense when you think about the remarkable purpose of the incarnation: for the Son of God to step out of heaven, shedding his regal robe for swaddling clothes, to bring himself low, in order to meet lowly me face to face, where I am, to lift me up.

It’s hard to believe, but that’s the real story of Christmas.

Glory to God in the highest!

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