GROWTH AND SUCCESS IN LIFE – Lessons Learned at the Feet of Jesus – Sermon on Mount (Part 9)
Jesus pronounced in this His first public discourse and teaching how to be happy and successful in life. This is happy in the deepest sense, not just satisfied from a good meal or a winning business or life event, but a deep settled, blessed, what one author called superlatively blessed life. This is fullness consistent with our design as God’s people and in a manner pleasing to Him.
So far in this first of Jesus’ sermons after selecting the disciples, he sounds like He is putting together less than a winning team. He has lifted up the virtues of poverty, grief, meekness, mercy-giving, purity in heart, and now being a peacemaker. This would not make the top 100 goals in much of any list of career aspirations, but that is the point. The Kingdom of God is not of merit or collections in this world, but a life following God in the Kingdom which is eternal.
Now we move into the rarified air of the cost of commitment. As we have said, there are two major themes in the Bible – salvation and discipleship. All of the Sermon on the Mount bridges both these themes, but primarily deals with the cost of following Jesus, following directly on the heels of the call to be a Peacemaker.
As a young man, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German theologian, read the words of the Sermon on the Mount and could not find any message in Germany that matched these calls from Jesus. So Bonhoeffer came to America to find this message. He did not find it in seminary in New York until he wandered into Abyssinian Baptist Church and found real disciples on fire for their faith. He engaged with the congregation and changed his life destiny. He returned to Germany in 1931 committed to the Jesus of the gospels and wanted to stand up to injustices in the world. Then entered Adolf Hitler. In both radio and spoken messages, Bonhoeffer became a force against Jewish persecution. The German church was asleep. Bonhoeffer quickly was forbidden to speak publicly. Ultimately, Bonhoeffer joined the Nazi resistance, became a spy and plotted for the death of Hitler and paid the price with his life. One of his final warnings to the German church was a call against “religionless Christianity.”
Matthew 5:10-12 10Blessed 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. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
1. Not Just Any Kind of Persecution. These are not offenses or consequences for poor, boorish or stupid behavior. This is persecution because of righteousness. This is the reaction of others when one stands up for the values, standards and lifestyle called out by Jesus. A good reminder here – we are blessed as we walk through this kind of life. God has not left the pilgrim adrift here. We are the agents and disciples of Jesus, standing for Kingdom values and callings that stand in contrast to the world and life around us.
2. Finding Joy in Persecution. Not only are we blessed as we go through this crucible, but Jesus instructs us to rejoice. Rejoice and be glad. In the very same way that Jesus’ brother James instructed us to, with joy, welcome the trials that go with our walk with Christ.
James 1:2-4 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. 4Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. This message is the same. Persecution finished our faith, makes us complete and not lacking anything, though finding the ways to live also includes wisdom, for which we are to ask for it from God himself.
James 1:5 5If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.
Bonhoeffer writes, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” It is tempting to water down the Biblical message, but here it is. Salvation is a gift of God, given to us by grace and faith, not by works, costing us nothing. Discipleship is a gift of God, works that we were ordained to participate in, and it costs us everything. Are you in? I am. Next week we find out how to be salt and light in our world. Stay tuned.
— John Moore