Distinct in Character

Biblical Reference: Matthew 5:1-12

I remember being asked as a kid, What do you want to be when you grow up? Maybe you were asked that question too. I gave a variety of answers: fireman, ballplayer, actor, teacher. One time I even said I’d like to be a pastor. When our little girl Martha was asked that question one day, she replied, “I want to be the President of the United States!”

Imagine asking Jesus, What do you want us to be when we grow up? Jesus points out the answer to that question in today’s biblical text. He holds up a character portrait of what He has in mind for us. However, Jesus focuses not on careers but on character.

The portion of Scripture I read earlier is referred to as the Beatitudes. I like to refer to them as the “Be-Distinct Attitudes.” In order to better understand them, we need to examine the context and what has transpired so far in Matthew’s Gospel.

Jesus has begun His ministry. He has come into this world proclaiming the Kingdom that had long been promised throughout the Old Testament. “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.” He’s called disciples to follow Him. The crowds are starting to move in His direction as they take notice of Him through His miracles and different sorts of teachings.

At this point in the story, Jesus takes His disciples to a mountain and begins to teach them about what kingdom-of-heaven people look like as far as character is concerned. This talk from Jesus in Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7 has been referred to as the Sermon on the Mount.

It’s important to understand that the Beatitudes are not a recipe on how to gain salvation. It’s being spoken to those who have said yes to Jesus Christ, have received salvation, and are now wondering what God has in mind for them. How can I live my life in a way that expresses my gratitude and love to God for all He has done for me?

Notice, each of these statements begins with the word “blessed.”Over the years, people have pointed out that it means happy. Some translations of Scripture even replace the word blessed with happy.

Blessed does mean happy, but not in the way we think of happiness. It’s not a prescription for happiness. The word blessed is not so much about how we feel but about what God thinks of us, what has His approval, which, of course, leads to happiness because God knows what makes our life work best. I like the way the New Living Translation puts it. Instead of “blessed are . . .” it says “God blesses those who are poor in spirit, . . .”

The first four Beatitudes describe what our relationship with God is to look like. It begins by saying, Blessed are the poor in spirit. Those who, in other words, know they need God. It means a humble dependence upon God, and an acknowledgment of our spiritual bankruptcy before God. We really need Him, and we’re sunk without Him. It’s like the old gospel song – Rock of Ages – says, “Nothing in my hand I bring; simply to the cross I cling. Naked come to thee for dress; helpless look to thee for grace; Foul I to the fountain fly; wash me Savior or I die.”

Each Beatitude has a promise attached to it. When Jesus says, “for they shall receive the kingdom of heaven,” it means we will step into a meaningful relationship with God and be a citizen of His kingdom.

Blessed are those who mourn. Jesus is not talking about those who are grieving over personal loss. He is talking about those who lament over sin in their life. As we take an honest inventory of how we fall short, tears of deep contrition for sin fall. Godly grief and sorrow.

When we look at the world around us, we begin to mourn over the evil and sin in this world God created. Jesus says those who mourn will be comforted with forgiveness. A vision of a new heaven and a new earth will be ours to enjoy with no more sorrow and no more tears, as the book of Revelation tells us.

Blessed are the meek. He’s talking about those who are gentle, God controlled, free from malice and a vengeful spirit. Being calm and peaceful. We understand that we’re not even close to being perfect. We humbly know ourselves quite well and provide a soothing effect on those who are angry around us.

Jesus promises the meek shall inherit the earth. We will see the big picture, as Psalm 37 says. We are as “having nothing, but possessing everything (in Christ),” as Paul tells us in II Cor. 6:10.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. We want our character and conduct to please God. This means a life where we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. We want to be right in God’s sight and conduct ourselves in a way that pleases Him.

We also want to see the right thing being done. We have a longing for justice and righteousness. We want God’s will to be done in the world around us. Jesus says those kinds of people will be satisfied. The picture here is one of contentment, walking hand-in-hand with God.

After describing what our relationship with God is to look like, Jesus then moves us toward looking at our relationship with others.

Blessed are the merciful. He is talking about having compassion and showing forgiveness to those who are hurting or have hurt us. Those who do so will receive mercy. God replaces the mercy we give away with His own mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart. Those who are utterly sincere, transparent, have integrity, and are free from falsehood. They have no devious hidden motives, do not wear a mask, are not hypocrites like the Pharisees and the Scribes. Jesus says they shall see God. There is an awareness of God’s presence as He draws close. They will find strength in their lives, and then see Him face-to-face in His heaven.

Blessed are the peacemakers. Jesus was called the Prince of Peace, wasn’t He? Blessed are those who then – like Jesus – bring peace and reconciliation into relationships and work at preserving unity in the church and in the world. He says they will be called children of God because they’ll look like children of God. They’ll look like Jesus.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. This describes those who strive to do the right thing in God’s sight, who stand up for Jesus Christ and the Gospel in this world. Blessed are those who do the right thing in the name of Christ.

Blessed are you when men revile you on account of me. Jesus is telling us to rejoice when this happens, and be glad when you are mistreated for His sake. Consider it a badge of honor. You are in good company when you suffer on His account. Jesus promises a great reward in heaven.

This is the comprehensive portrait of what Jesus has in mind for us when we say yes to Him and become His disciple and a citizen of the Kingdom of heaven. It makes us stand out in the crowd instead of blending in. Why? Because these values are the absolute opposites of the world in which we live. They fly in the face of the world’s values. They challenge the non-Christian world with its perspectives and values.

Years ago I ran across this alteration of the Beatitudes according to the world by J. B. Phillips:

Happy are the pushers: for they get on in the world.
Happy are the hard-boiled: for they never let life hurt them.
Happy are those who complain: for they get their own way in the end.
Happy are the blasé: for they never worry over their sins.
Happy are the slave drivers: for they get results.
Happy are the knowledgeable men of the world: for they know their way around.
Happy are the troublemakers: for people have to take notice of them.

Jesus is telling His followers that He wants us to let go of those values and attitudes and take hold of His values instead. He has something totally different in mind. “Anybody who enters into fellowship with Jesus must undergo a transvaluation of values,” according to Helmut Thielicke, a theologian from the last century. What the world pities and rejects, God labels blessed, approved.

The Christian theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who termed these sayings of Jesus as “The Extraordinariness of the Christian Life,” wrote, “With every beatitude the gulf is widened between the disciples and the people, and their call to come forth from the people becomes increasingly manifest.” You stand out!

Jesus is saying that God puts His stamp of blessing upon the life that refuses to be in tune with the world or accommodate itself to the standards of the world, but instead chooses to abide by kingdom standards, to follow Christ and His ways.

It’s a beautiful picture. But I can’t help but feel that it sounds a little overwhelming, for a lot of change needs to happen in one’s life.

The good news is, my dear brothers and sisters, the preacher of this sermon, Jesus, has all authority in heaven and on earth. He not only knows what He’s talking about, but He promises to be with us in all of this. We are not left to do this on our own. Those of us who have said yes to Christ have experienced a new birth. We have been born again. The Spirit of God resides within us and enables us and shapes us to be the distinctive people Christ is describing in the Beatitudes and allows us to shine for the kingdom of God.

I know many in frustration and disappointment are inclined to say you can’t change human nature. And it is true – we cannot change human nature. But Christ can! Look at those first disciples who heard these words of Jesus on the Sermon on the Mount, and the change that took place in them when they were filled with God’s Holy Spirit after the resurrection of Christ. Cowardice gave way to courage as they were reviled and rejected on account of Christ, and they kept at it. Self-interest was killed and became ministry and service to others. Jealousy became mercy toward others. And the same Holy Spirit who worked in their lives is available to you and to me today! God can still do great things for you, in you, and through you. He is ready, waiting and able.

What about you and me? Do we desire a change? Scripture tells us we are like lumps of clay. And if we are clay, then let’s remember there is a Potter and His wheel. The Gospel song has it right –

Have Thine Own Way, Lord; Have thine own way.
Thou art the potter, I am the clay.
Mold me and make me, after thy will.
While I am waiting, yielded and still.

That’s it! We have only to be yielded, willing, surrendered to Him. God will make us according to the pattern His love designed for us. He will make us poor in spirit, pure in heart, merciful, striving for righteousness, willing to take one on the chin for Jesus Christ. He is willing to make us into the person Jesus describes in the Beatitudes, and it will be for our good, and for His glory. And, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we will be distinct, and we will make a difference for the cause of Jesus Christ.

Have Thine Own Way, Lord. Have thine own way. Make us to be like what Jesus described today. Amen.

Rev. Steve Kramer