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SERMON ON THE MOUNT: PART FOUR

PRESENTED 03-08-08

 

       Today will be my fourth sermon in our series on Christ’s Sermon on the Mount.  We began with:  "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."   To be poor in spirit is to be of a contrite heart, to be humble before God always recognizing it is only by the grace of God we live and have our being and have opportunity for living beyond this physical existence.  To be poor in spirit is to admit to our spiritual poverty and destitution outside of the life giving power of the spirit of God.  

       We continued with "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” We discussed how mourning involves being grieved over sin and we saw how mourning or being grieved flows from being poor in spirit. Mourning is the natural outcome of recognizing our total reliance on God and our need to respond to that condition by ordering our lives in accordance with Gods will.  To be poor in spirit is to discover our spiritual poverty which should lead to automatically being grieved at anything that would interfere with having reconciliation with God.  

       We then discussed "Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth."  We saw that to be meek is to not glory in ourselves and to truly treat others as better than ourselves.  Just as being grieved and mourning over sin flows from being poor in spirit, being meek flows from mourning over sin and recognizing we humans are all in the same boat spiritually speaking and when we see faults in others we must realize we are no better and so in a spirit of humility we should help restore others who may be experiencing a trial or caught up in sinful behavior.  

       Today we will discuss the fourth of the Beatitudes:  Matthew 5:6: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."

       We have all experienced hunger and thirst.  We experience these physical cravings   every day.  If you go without eating for several days, the desire for food increases intently.  Going without water for any length of time produces an even greater sense of deprivation.  We will do anything to obtain water when our body cries out for this liquid so essential to life.  Once we find water and begin to drink it, we experience great joy at having our thirst quenched.  The same thing is true when we eat a meal and experience the relief from hunger pangs. Now we go through this process everyday, don’t we?  We feel thirsty and we drink a glass of water. We get hungry and we grab a bit to eat.

       Here we have Jesus saying that blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  If we are to analogize this instruction from Jesus to our physical need for food and water, we should be experiencing spiritual thirst and hunger pangs on a daily basis and we should be seeking to be filled.  Christ said if we hunger and thirst after righteousness we will be filled.  He also said that those who do this are blessed or happy as the Greek implies.  In other words, happiness is a natural outcome of hungering and thirsting for righteousness and being filled.  Well it certainly is true that when we quench our physical thirst or satisfy our physical hunger we are happy.  Are we experiencing the happiness that comes through being filled with righteousness?   What does it mean to be filled with righteousness?  For that matter, what is righteousness? 

       Righteousness is a very theological sounding word that has a very simple meaning.  Righteousness is simply doing what is right.  Instruction as to what is right is found in this book.  It is found in practicing the law of love.  It is found in living by the golden rule. It is found in expressing concern for others and actively promoting the welfare and wellbeing of others. Righteousness is the outward expression of inward attributes of character.  Righteousness is being genuine through and through.  Righteousness involves being clean on the inside as well as the outside.

       The religious leaders of the first century had a real problem with this.  In many ways they were very righteous.  They diligently kept the Mosaic Covenant. They even added unto it in an attempt to be super righteous.  Bur what did Christ say regarding their righteousness?

       Matthew 5:20: For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

       At first glance this would seem to be a very ominous statement for us.  These religious leaders were extremely meticulous in crossing every T and dotting every I.  They could probably put many of us to shame as to being diligence in doing the right thing.  Many of us might have a hard time being as righteous as these religious leaders and yet Jesus said unless we surpass what they were doing we will certainly not enter the Kingdom. This being the case it certainly behooves us to discover what it was that they were not doing that caused Christ to make the statement he did. 

       Matthew 23:1-7: Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples: "The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat.  So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.  They tie up heavy loads and put them on men's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them. "Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries  wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;  they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them `Rabbi.'

       Verse 23: You give a tenth of your spices--mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law--justice, mercy and faithfulness.

       Verse 28: you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

       As can be seen, what these religious leaders were not doing was being righteous in their heart.  They were not poor in spirit which as we have seen is to be contrite of heart, humble before God and willing to admit to our spiritual poverty and destitution outside of the life giving power of the spirit of God.  They were not mourning over sin and repenting.  They probably didn’t even recognize sin in their lives.  And they certainly weren’t meek.  Righteousness of the heart is what ushers us into the Kingdom of God.

       But how do we attain to such righteousness.  Christ said if we hunger and thirst for righteousness we will be filled and the result will be happiness.  Happiness, that elusive yet much sought after aspiration of life.  Everyone wants to be happy.  Everything in life is seemingly designed to bring about happiness.  The motive behind almost all work and ambition is to attain happiness.  People virtually hunger and thirst after happiness. Yet so many people go through life frustrated by their lack of finding and hanging unto happiness.  There is a major reason for this and it is found in the very statement of Christ we are discussing. 

       We are not to hunger and thirst after happiness. We are to hunger and thirst after righteousness.  If we hunger and thirst after righteousness we will be filled and we will be happy.  This is what Christ is saying.  Happiness follows being filled with righteousness. So many put the quest for happiness ahead of the quest for righteousness.  The message we get for Jesus is that we must seek righteous first and happiness will follow.

       Matthew 6:33: But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

       The things referred to are the necessary things of life that the proceeding verses allude to.  Notice that Christ connects the kingdom and righteousness.  That is because as many scriptures demonstrate, to be in the kingdom is to practice righteousness and to practice righteousness is to be in the kingdom.  The way of the world is to seek “all these things” first and hope that by attaining “all these things” happiness will come.  Yet happiness often doesn’t come because the cause of happiness is ignored.  It’s akin to a sick person who goes to the doctor and the doctor gives the person a medication to cover up the symptoms being experienced.  The symptoms, of course, are a sign that there is a problem.  Covering up the symptoms doesn’t eliminate or get to the cause of  the problem.  People buy all kinds of stuff and do all kinds of things in order to satisfy their longing to be happy while all the while ignoring or never coming to identify the cause of their unhappiness.  The basic cause of unhappiness is a failure to hunger and thirst after righteousness.  But let’s get back to our question.  How do we attain such righteousness?

       The answer is we don’t.  Look at the religious leaders of the first century.  They didn’t come close to attaining the righteousness required of the kingdom.  Yes they were righteous in so much that they did many things right in relationship to the law.  But as is seen from the scathing comments directed at these religious leaders by Christ, their doing things right in relationship to the law did not accomplish the kind of righteousness required for kingdom living.  These religious leaders were attaining a level of righteousness purely on human effort alone.  The Israelites under the leadership of Moses kept the law purely on human effort and often failed miserably in their efforts to keep the law because there righteousness was not of the heart.

       Isaiah 29:13: Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men:

       So how do we attain to such righteousness?  As I said we don’t.   Jesus Christ attains it for us.

       2 Corinthians 5:21:  God made him who had no sin to be sin  for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

       Galatians 2:20-21: I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!"

       Philippians 3:8-9: I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ--the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

      Jesus, in response to the will of God the Father, went to the cross to facilitate the granting of righteousness to us so we can live forever.  What should our response be to this extraordinary achievement accomplished by Christ Jesus?  What kind of a reaction should this generate in each and every one of us?  Does this mean we can just sit back and relax and not be concerned about our behavior?

       Philippians 1:9-11: And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight,  so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ--to the glory and praise of God.

       By ourselves we cannot attain to the righteousness required for the Kingdom.  The only way we can surpass the righteousness of the religious leaders of Christ’s day is to have the righteousness of God implanted within us through the Holy Spirit as a result of what Christ did on the cross.  It is only through Christ this can be accomplished.  But once that righteousness dwells within us it should be manifested in our behavior. It has to bear fruit.  It must be expressed in our behavior. Our behavior must reflect what God has given us through Jesus. Yet we can’t take credit for it.  We can’t behave like the religious leaders of Christ’s day and think by our righteous behavior we are something special.  The fruit we bear is the result of the change that has taken place in our lives resulting from the righteousness implanted within us.  

       Basketball player Michael Redd of the Milwaukee Bucks in interviews often gives credit to God for his skills as a basketball player.  He understands that the skills he has are not something he generated but have been there from birth and he has the responsibility of developing them to the highest degree possible.  We have been given a new spiritual birth in Christ which is characterized by the very righteousness of God being implanted within us. We have the responsibility of expressing that righteousness in our behavior.

       When you ponder the message contained in Christ saying, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled,” you are staring at the essence of the Gospel.  The Gospel is all about having the righteousness of God implanted within us so we can liver forever with God.  Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is to hunger and thirst after God.  David put it very succinctly: 

       Psalm 42:1-2: As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.

       The person that is hungering and thirsting after righteousness is the person who understands what it is to say with Apostle Paul that “In me, that is in my flesh, dwells no good thing.” If we insist on continuing to pat ourselves on the back and feel we are accomplishing righteousness by all the good stuff we do, it indicates quite clearly that we have not yet come to the point of being poor in spirit where we recognize our spiritual poverty and destitution outside of the life giving power of the spirit of God.

       Once we come to understand that it is the righteousness of God dwelling in us that facilitates righteous behavior, then it a matter of identifying what the righteousness of God entails.  That understanding we get from the scriptures and following the leading of Gods Spirit that resides within us as we encounter the many challenges of life.  And it is this response to God's righteousness in us that leads to happiness.  Why does it lead to happiness?

       It leads to happiness because Gods righteousness is characterized by the law of love.  When the law of love is the chief dynamic of our behavior, we will always be in a behavioral mode of looking out for the welfare of others even at the expense of our own. Looking out for the welfare of others brings the satisfaction of seeing others benefit from our actions.  Nothing is more rewarding and brings greater happiness than to see others benefited because of our expression of love and concern for them.  Being a servant to others may not always be easy but it produces a sense of personal worth and accomplishment that can facilitate true happiness.  After all, this is the very way in which Jesus behaved.

       Philippians 2:1-8:  If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with 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 purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature (Greek: form) God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing (Greek: emptied Himself), taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death-- even death on a cross!

       Hebrews 12:2: Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

       What was the joy set before Christ?  The joy was to see humanity reconciled to God through His sacrifice on the cross.  This is the kind of attitude we are to have.  This is the attitude of righteousness. Righteousness is all about being a servant, being poor in spirit, grieved over sin and meek in disposition. We saw in a previous sermon in this series how grieved Jesus was over the sins of Jerusalem because he knew their sin would lead to the judgement that came upon them in A.D. 70.  Sin brings unhappiness.  Righteousness brings happiness. God wants us to be happy but not in terms of how the world seeks happiness.  True happiness comes through hungering and thirsting after righteousness. 

       The next beatitude we will address is, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

SERMON FIVE