We’ve made it to 50 episodes! And I was not totally accurate when I spoke in the last episode: we’re not going to finish the Beatitudes series today. But we do have something special for you. I was able to give a sermon as part of a preaching class my church put on, and I was able to record it.
As the saying goes, you’re your own worst critic and that is certainly true for me of my preaching here. But here I present, for your enjoyment, my sermon on the first 10 verses of Psalm 34, and on the centrality of worship in our lives.
The impure in heart cannot see any need of being born again. They say, “We admit that we are not quite all that we should be, but we can easily be made all right. As to the talk about a new creation, we do not see any need of that. We have made a few mistakes which will be rectified by experience. And there have been some errors of life which we trust may be condoned by future watchfulness and care.” But if the unrenewed man’s heart were pure, he would see that his nature has been an evil thing from the beginning and he would realize that thoughts of evil as naturally rise in us as sparks do from a fire! And he would feel that it would be a dreadful thing that such a nature as that should remain unchanged.–C.H. Spurgeon
We’re getting near the end of the Beatitudes series, and I am grateful to all of you for bearing with me in the incredible slowness of producing this series. I won’t belabor you all with my tales of busyness of late but suffice it to say, I have desires to have this podcast ramp up and be produced more frequently. I will probably talk or write more about what that looks like at a later date but for now I want to talk about the text.
Jesus tells us that the pure in heart are blessed because they will see God. There are a lot of ways to understand that idea. First, I want to remind you that this section, as Charles Spurgeon noted heavily in the earlier sermons, is not about classes of Christians, but about what someone does and what someone is when they are in Christ. All of it, including and especially purity of heart, is the sovereign and gracious work of God in the hearts of His children, and by it we come to see Him.
Certainly we will see Him in the life to come, not just that He will be before our eyes, but we will see Him as He truly is—our King, our Father, our Lord, who we will live with and worship in ways far deeper than we can conceive of in this present world full of sin and death. Those things will be gone, and forgotten. Work will not be full of drudgery and disappointment, but will bear perfect fruit in accordance with what is set before us. Rest will be complete in Christ, and joy will be the byword of eternal life in a remade and perfect world.
But I think there is a way that we see God in this life as well, though invisibly. Then we will see perfectly, but now we see with eyes of faith that let us see God’s hand in our circumstances and in those around us. Not in some kind of superstitious way, but in the way that lets us trust fully in the truth of the words of Paul in Romans 8, that all things truly do work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.
This way of seeing God in this world involves seeing Him in the midst of suffering and happiness, in our deepest and most heartfelt needs and in times of abundance. We see Him because He demonstrates His faithfulness to us in all those times, even when we turn faithless, even when we are seeking solace in fleshly foolishness, because He is God and because He is good. And as we walk in humility, we rest fully in Him because we see Him working faithfully.
So I pray that I will remain faithful and continue to look to Him with eyes of faith, and I pray that the same is true of you. Not because faith is some kind of blind thing, but because with the faith granted to us by the Holy Spirit we look to Christ, and see the perfect will of God worked out in our lives and in our world. Let us worship Him together, my brothers and sisters, because He is good and faithful, and because He is so gracious to purify our hearts in the shed blood of Jesus Christ.
There is nothing in this world that is more real than hunger and thirst—and the truly blessed man has such a real passion, desire and craving after righteousness that it can only be likened to hunger and thirst. He must have his sins pardoned, he must be clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and he must be sanctified! And he feels that it will break his heart if he cannot get rid of sin. He pines, he longs, and he prays to be made holy! He cannot be satisfied without this righteousness—and his hungering and thirsting for it is a very real thing. – Charles Spurgeon
I had to spend time wrestling with a heavy weight on my heart for a while before I was able to really get this episode under way. No one specific thing seemed to hinder me, but I ended up seeking counsel from many good brothers who aided me in and with prayer and much truth, and I am incredibly grateful to them that I am now able to be here creating this.
The truth Charles Spurgeon speaks about the Beatitudes, that each one succeeds and builds upon the one before it logically and in a sort of “order of salvation” sense, is beginning to be demonstrated as we get to one of the greatest promises a believer in Jesus can cling to: when you ache with desire for righteousness, you will be satisfied.
When you feel the awareness of the glory and purity of God revealed in Jesus and you feel so very unworthy to be in His presence, remember: you will be satisfied.
When you cry out for freedom from desperately clinging sins and false identities that call you into evil ways of life, that call you by names of a dead man, you have the right, the privilege, and the charge to look to the cross, and to the empty grave, and to know: Jesus satisfies all charges against you; Jesus takes away even the sins you haven’t committed yet; Jesus gives you His perfect and complete righteousness like a garment that will never wear out and never be soiled.
Alive and imperishable
Paul takes the ideas that Jesus teaches here and discusses them in great detail especially in Romans. Chapter 6 opens with the truth about the relationship of the believer in Christ to sin: we are dead to it.
We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.For one who has died has been set free from sin.Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.–Romans 6:6-11
It doesn’t mean that in this world we will never sin (chapter 7 goes on to discuss that), but that we have been set free from sin both in guilt and in fact. We do not have to say yes to our sin, and in fact should continue to faithfully say no to it because we can and we must. That is the hunger of the one who has been changed by the Holy Spirit; that is the holy thirst of the one who bows the knee to Jesus in joy and adoration.
Let’s put away the big words for a moment though: this is about the way God changes a man when He saves him. Each step we’ve taken, from the eyes opening to the reality of how much we actually need God and how inadequate we are on our own, to the mourning of our hearts over that truth and the humility of heart that comes as a result, and now the new taste, the new desires we have. But even though this hunger and thirst is something that we as believers now have by the grace of God, we have to feed that hunger, we need to drink our fill of God’s goodness and righteousness!
Jonathan Edwards said of this deep-seated need, “There is no such thing as excess in our taking of this spiritual food. There is no such virtue as temperance in spiritual feasting.” And even more importantly: for those in Christ, there is no cutting us off from that feast. When we stumble and sin, we are not turned away by a shocked God shaking his head saying “Well, geez, I thought you were better than this…maybe come back after you’ve washed up.” No, we are to come right to that table and leave behind the sinful junk food, because God has provided a strengthening meal and a refreshing drink that restores.
Next episode we will continue this as we dig into the kind of person that God is making us into in Christ. Thank you all for your continued prayers and support, and I encourage you to subscribe to the podcast and follow at the links below.
At this present moment, who is the mightier? Caesar with his legions or Christ with His cross? We know who will be the victor before long–Mohammed with his sharp scimitar or Christ with His Doctrine of Love. When all earthly forces are overthrown, Christ’s Kingdom will still stand. Nothing is mightier than meekness. And it is the meek who inherit the earth in that sense.–Charles Spurgeon
This week I got to teach some of the little kids at my church, and had the opportunity to talk to them about what it meant for Jesus to humble himself, to go from His glory upon the throne of Heaven, to becoming a man of low status and submitting to a life of a servant, and an ignominious death. As I did I thought about this sermon I would be recording, and it seems that the text that lesson was based on is incredibly fitting to it, so I want to first read this passage:
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy,complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name,so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling,for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.
Do all things without grumbling or disputing,that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,holding fast to the word of life, so that in the day of Christ I may be proud that I did not run in vain or labor in vain.Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.Likewise you also should be glad and rejoice with me.—Philippians 2:1-18
Now of course, I didn’t exactly exegete this whole text for the 4 year olds, but rather I concentrated on the main points and tried to make it clear to them in a way they could understand and talk about with their parents later. This passage, however, is such a deep and rich one, that it truly deserves to be read alongside Jesus’ words of promise to the meek, as the way by which one who desires to have such a title attached to himself can achieve such a thing.
Christ the servant King
The Son of God gave up all, for the sake of glorifying God, for the sake of salvation for His people, and for the sake of showing the way by which one can walk in peace with God. It is in this way that the Christian shows his love, and it is by our love that we are known–love for each other, and love for God. There cannot be love without this heart of service, without meekness setting the tone of life.
On a personal level, to be quite honest, it is one of those things that drives me to my knees. I know exactly how much my heart does not want to be meek, how self-seeking I can be, and how much love I do not show. My desire is to put self-seeking away, and that means daily battle with the flesh. Many days I feel so very distant from that goal, and yet the Lord has patiently and lovingly led me along each day. He has heard my prayers and shown me grace in new ways every day. That, I think, is something every Christian can praise His name for daily.
Meekness, real humility, is something that a man on his own cannot fully appreciate. It is only in the great shadow of the throne of God that it truly reaches its greatest meaning. It is therefore incumbent upon all of us as Christians, to truly represent that attitude. It is humble, first and foremost, to go to God and wait upon Him in our greatest and least needs. It is humble to serve others with a loving heart, not expecting payment but wanting to benefit them. And it is humble to confess your sins, before God and before your brothers and sisters, and let them die of exposure nailed to the cross.
That doesn’t mean, of course, that every Sunday you need to get up before the pastor speaks with a laundry list of offenses. But as Christians, I believe that one of the deadliest things we can engage in is allowing any sin to take even the smallest root and be hidden away from anybody who can truly speak truth into our lives. God certainly knows, and He will not be mocked. Certainly we are seeing the results of God upending hidden sin, throughout the world and throughout the church, right now.
We need to be humble before God with our sinfulness, meek and gracious to others as servants, and yet also trusting to God for provision and for truth. I recently encountered a quote from one of John Piper’s books that has stuck with me hard: “Oh how rare are the pastors who speak with a tender heart and have a theological backbone of steel.” To be meek is not to be a doormat, it isn’t to be halfhearted or to refuse to engage in discussion. Too often, however, true patience, tenderness, and love seem to be absent by those who claim the name of Christ.
I will close with greetings to my brothers visiting my area for the SBC 2018 convention. Hard things have come to light and I implore you to heed the words of Dr. Al Mohler as you get ready to come together. Do not let Baptist politics or fear of losing face keep you from seeking after the Lord in obedience. Do not let a fear of liberalism infiltrating keep you from exposing sin to the light, and likewise, do not fall for the claim that because sin has been exposed, the antidote to it is biblical compromise. Heed the words of the apostle Paul:
Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good.Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.–Romans 12:9-21
Surely, if the Savior has divine power, as the text declares to proclaim liberty to the captive, and if He can break open prison doors, and set free those convicted and condemned, He is just the one who can comfort your soul and mine, though we are mourning in Zion! Let us rejoice at His coming and cry, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” Happy are we that we live in an age when Jesus breaks the gates of brass, and cuts the bars of iron in sunder! – Charles Spurgeon
It may strike you as a little confusing as to why I’m suddenly reading a sermon out of Isaiah, when this is supposed to be a series on the Beatitudes. The sad fact is, as far as I can tell, Charles Spurgeon never preached a sermon explicitly on Matthew 5:4, which of course reads, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” I did not want to simply skip the passage, however, and certainly the idea that Jesus speaks to in this verse is one that is found throughout Scripture, so it made sense to pick a sermon that spoke to the same subject. I also wanted to cover it for personal reasons, especially because I am now passing roughly one year since what could be termed “my Weathertop.”
But as the good Brother Spurgeon says in his sermon, mourning for the believer is not something that is simply dreaded or to be avoided. On the contrary, a believer mourns with hope in their heart. Though there is pain and heartache now, the believer in Christ thinks of God’s promises in His Word. Ecclesiastes 7:2, for example:
It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart.
We will die. It is the result of the curse of sin on all of us, and whether it’s tomorrow or a hundred years from now, whether because we get hit by a bus or because we can’t physically endure one more moment of a long life. And we look to Paul’s words, as he spoke to Christians who faced persecution:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can beagainst us?He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
So we can readily see, in a broad picture, why one might believe that those who mourn are blessed. And even more, as was noted in the sermon, the kind of mourning that a believer does is done in such a way as to drive us to prayer, to communion with God, to once again nail our sins to the cross.
Those whose eyes are opened by God to their poverty of spirit are blessed, because that moment is the moment they come into their grand inheritance of the kingdom. Yet on this earth we are surrounded still by darkness, we are still plagued by sinful desires that seek to upend a life in Christ and seek after foolish things that bring no life, and we mourn all of that. We mourn our own sinfulness and we mourn our dry times, we mourn the ways that we have foolishly sinned and stumbled and rebelled. But in that mourning, there is joyfulness, there is the comfort of the Lord, because that is the state of heart that leads us to bow in humility before the mercy seat, and to worship and rejoice in God’s incredible love and graciousness towards us.
“And there followed him a great company of people, and of women, which also bewailed and lamented him.” -Luke 23:27 Amid the rabble rout which hounded the Redeemer to his doom, there were some gracious souls whose bitter anguish sought vent in wailing and lamentations–fit music to accompany that march of woe. When my soul…
“No proud man reigns–he is the slave of his boastings, the serf of his own loftiness. The ambitious worldling grasps after a kingdom, but he does not possess one. The humble in heart are content and in that contentment they are made to reign high!” – Charles Spurgeon
Let’s take a moment and look again at the full text of the Beatitudes:
Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.
And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”–Matthew 5:1-11
We are at the beginning, and one thing that strikes me right away is that in the same way, this is how the life of a believer in Christ begins: we become aware of what we really need. The lack of fulfillment, the lack of peace, the lack of righteousness–these are attempts to express in limited words what are needs in the deepest parts of our being. More even than that, someone who is about to take the first step on this journey has come face to face with two facts: 1) There is a God, who made me and made everything, and who has been generous to me in ways that are unspeakably great, and 2) I am guilty of great sin against this God, because I have been eating His food, drinking His drink, breathing His air, and taking every last bit of it for granted, believing that it is mine by all rights. Paul describes this person in Romans 1:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them.For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.Claiming to be wise, they became fools,and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.–Romans 1:18-23
And at the close of the same chapter, he reveals the depths of darkness such hearts descend to:
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done.They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents,foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless.Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.–Romans 1:28-32
Reborn to the deepest need
But we’re talking about the person who sees this in themselves in a way he’s never seen it before. He perceives that he has spent his life taking from God without gratitude, hating Him who made him, blaming Him for his pain all the while not taking it to Him for healing, and compounding sin upon sin–and his eyes are opened by the grace of God through His Holy Spirit. He sees his true state, and he mourns it. He is in the temple of God beside the tax collector who cries out “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”
Just like that: that is one who will inherit the kingdom of heaven. Not because he has done anything or said magic words, not because he has atoned for his sins–he could never hope to atone for such a mountain–but yet here he is, someone who has come face to face with his complete poverty of spirit, with the fact that all the achievements of his life will be like ashes in the wind one day, and that eternity is a vastness which he cannot comprehend, yet he feels its great weight on him. He counts himself at the center of the mass included in Paul’s words from Romans, “For all have sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God,” and as one who is due to receive a great sum in pay, “For the wages of sin is death.”
This was me, when I had my eyes opened to the reality of my life and my heart. The amazing thing about this, however, is that God never leaves us there. He didn’t leave me sitting with a handful of nothing except promises of judgment, He instead turned me to the next truth, the one that follows from this: in seeing this deep poverty which I am unable to overcome, I can instead look to His promise that instead of striving to fill myself with things that only frustrate and never soothe, I will be inheriting something so great I can hardly conceive of it.
“The kingdom of heaven is like…”
Yet, that kingdom is not one of lording authority over another. It is not like an earthly kingdom, but as Jesus said, “The one who would be greatest, must be the servant of all.” So our sense of poverty of spirit drives us back to the beginning, back to humility and to service.
So what if you don’t feel like this? What if you don’t feel that you are poor in spirit, but that you have been deprived, that you have not been given a fair shake? This world is fractured by sin and our lives in it are hard. We enter it in pain and leave it in pain. We only are able to get what we need through great toil, because our first parents did not trust God to be God and instead tried to stand alongside Him. So if you are someone who hears this and reacts in anger, and says “Well maybe I wouldn’t need so much from God if He would just give me what I want! My life has been full of pain and hardship, I have lost everything!” And I don’t begrudge such a person their pain, nor do I pretend it isn’t real.
However, just as much I would also point to the fact that such pain serves a purpose even in its darkest times. It is a reminder to me that this world is not ultimate. It’s a blip in time, a glancing look in the grand scope of eternity, and those who trust in Christ, as the Lord himself said, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel,who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29)
The kingdom of heaven turns the world upside down. Suffering finds its complete healing and fulfillment. Pain and heartbreak end, and what has been broken is restored. We look to the future and the fulfillment of the words of John in Revelation 21:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”And he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment.The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son.But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”
Lean on Him, my friends. If you have tasted that emptiness, that pain and knowledge of your own sin, if you long to know how to soothe the damage done by the evils of the world, look to Jesus! Heed the words of the very next chapter of Revelation, and know that your heart can worship and find real peace.
The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.
As mentioned on the podcast, below is the full video of the discussion I took part in through my church.
I have desired to begin this series on the Beatitudes since before Christmas, but schedule and then illness held me back. I am very grateful to finally be able to begin this, and the extra time has only allowed me to think and meditate more on this, on the passages in question and to anticipate the effect of preaching on Jesus’ words both on myself and on anyone who listens.
This sermon is definitely one of the shorter ones I have done, but it is the beginning of the second series I’ve ever done here, and the longest one I have attempted. It has been a blessing to read and prepare for it, and it has prompted me to not just spend time talking about my thoughts, but to want to study the text more and speak on it.
One of the points that struck me as I did this, was that these are not simply “good ways to be,” which is how many people think about the word. “Beatitude,” after all, is not “be-attitude,” but rather it comes from the Latin word beati which can be understood as “happiness,” or “blessedness.” In his famous commentary, Matthew Henry notes the same thing Charles Spurgeon did in contrasting the end of the Old Testament, which pronounces a curse, with the opening of Jesus’ first sermon with a blessing:
The Old Testament ended with a curse (Mal. 4:6), the gospel begins with a blessing; for hereunto are we called, that we should inherit the blessing. Each of the blessings Christ here pronounces has a double intention: 1. To show who they are that are to be accounted truly happy, and what their characters are. 2. What that is wherein true happiness consists, in the promises made to persons of certain characters, the performance of which will make them happy. Now,
1. This is designed to rectify the ruinous mistakes of a blind and carnal world. Blessedness is the thing which men pretend to pursue; Who will make us to see good? Ps. 4:6. But most mistake the end, and form a wrong notion of happiness; and then no wonder that they miss the way; they choose their own delusions, and court a shadow. The general opinion is, Blessed are they that are rich, and great, and honourable in the world; they spend their days in mirth, and their years in pleasure; they eat the fat, and drink the sweet, and carry all before them with a high hand, and have every sheaf bowing to their sheaf; happy the people that is in such a case; and their designs, aims, and purposes are accordingly; they bless the covetous (Ps. 10:3); they will be rich. Now our Lord Jesus comes to correct this fundamental error, to advance a new hypothesis, and to give us quite another notion of blessedness and blessed people, which, however paradoxical it may appear to those who are prejudiced, yet is in itself, and appears to be to all who are savingly enlightened, a rule and doctrine of eternal truth and certainty, by which we must shortly be judged. If this, therefore, be the beginning of Christ’s doctrine, the beginning of a Christian’s practice must be to take his measures of happiness from those maxims, and to direct his pursuits accordingly.
Another thing I would like to draw out of this, and which I hope will be very evident by the end of this series, is the God-centeredness of these blessings. Not that He is talking about what God is doing directly, because Jesus is most certainly talking about men here, but that He is talking about what the life of one who truly has God as Lord and center of worship looks like. There is an aspect of holiness that is married to this, and in seeking after these blessings, it is holiness that the believer will find, as he grows in reflecting these.
I want to close by recommending the book The Holiness of God by R.C. Sproul. You may have heard that Dr. Sproul passed away recently, and it was in light of that, that I decided to take time out and read this book I have heard mentioned so many times, and it has had a profound impact upon me. If you can, I highly recommend that you do the same, because the grace of God is perhaps most profoundly understood, and most sweetly tasted, in light of His tremendous and awesome holiness.
I will try to keep these coming more regularly, God willing, and I am hopeful that my work on this has an influence leading to worship on anyone who is able to listen.
Listen to twice-daily Morning and Evening updates on the Theology Mix podcast feed.
If you missed it, I did a livestream while I was recording on the Facebook page. Follow this link if you want to see this sermon read unedited for mistakes, coughing, etc.
I won’t belabor this final episode of the year, except to wish you all a merry Christmas and happy new year. I ran a little poll on the Twitter account to see what people would choose for the Christmas episode, and this sermon won out by a large margin. I found it very fitting as well.
Right before things began to officially blow up in my life earlier this year, I recorded an episode called “Joy in Place of Sorrow.” In it I talked about two phrases from Scripture that struck me as being very central to the day to day life of a Christian: “Rejoice” and “Do not fear.” Furthermore, they both seem linked directly to the greatest commandment: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your strength; and the second which is like it: love your neighbor as yourself. If you are loving God completely, you will rejoice in all circumstances, and that love will kill what Brother Spurgeon here calls “slavish fear,” the fear that drove Adam and Eve into hiding in the garden.
I have been put through a crash course in these truths this year, and as we prepare to close out one year and begin a new one, I want to say to you, my listeners: Rejoice in the coming of Christ, every day. Do not fear the Lord, but call out to Him and seek to worship Him in everything you do. Let that love spill over to how you treat your neighbors, how you love the people close to you and the strangers you meet. I have seen a disturbing trend of many Christians digging in trying to find safety for their traditions and I want to tell you: stop. Safety is not why we are here. Love is why we are here, and we must have our eyes open to those around us, for every way we can show it.
We don’t do it out of fear, but because of the love He has shown us. Do not let your thinking be so high that you cannot lower yourself to the level of Jesus loving the poor, broken, desperate people around Him. If you want to show the truth of Jesus, let your hands match your words, brethren. I pray that I will live as consistently with that as I can in this coming year.
On November 5, a little over two weeks ago as of this writing, a man named Devin Kelley walked into the First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Texas, and proceeded to murder almost half of the congregation. Of the 50 attendees of that church, he killed 24 of them. When this happened, I was worshiping with my own church in Denton, about five hours north, and the horror of the tragedy struck close to my heart. Not because I was afraid someone was going to appear at our door next, though that thought certainly did cross my mind, but because of the immense pain that such wickedness brings to God’s people. “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints,” and certainly many precious lives were lost that day, even as they were welcomed into glory.
The response of those around me was the response that any Christian should have to such acts: to cry out to our Father in grief, in seeking justice, and in need of the strength and wisdom to move to action. Yet just as quickly as Christians moved to pray, the response that has been growing louder to that in popular culture came: sneering responses of “instead of just praying, why don’t you actually trying doing something.” “I’m sick of thoughts and prayers.” And so forth.
Life and death in Christ
The man who murdered those people took their lives, but he could never take them away from their Lord. And a Christian who goes to God in prayer is not sitting in inaction, but is in fact performing the most important and primary action anyone who truly believes in Jesus as Lord should follow: going to God for direction, for strength, and for a reminder of Who truly rules even over the tragedies, Who will achieve His great purpose even when and even through man’s wicked acts, because no one can escape the will and design of God. I wrote to my church in a request for prayer that day for FBC Sutherland Springs:
This is such a dark and wicked act, it is hard to think about how to react. Anger and sadness both seem appropriate. But I wanted to post this here and ask for prayer, and take a moment to talk about prayer in particular. I am not a pastor or elder, but I don’t believe I am out of line to say that prayer is one of the most powerful weapons in the hands of the Christian. The world sees “thoughts and prayers” and sneers at what they believe is inaction, but in fact we have taken one of the greatest actions a believer can take: going into the throne room of God and asking Him for intervention, for protection, for strength to act and wisdom to know how.
I hope we can all take time to pray for the people of this town, with 400 people living there and a church of 50 who just had almost half of those lost. Prayer is not inaction, it is a deep and meaningful act Christians take to call upon the name of the Lord and seek the good mercies He pours out upon His children even in times of turmoil and hardship.
Doing all things
One of the most misused verses in the Bible is Philippians 4:13. We’ve all seen it plastered on motivational posters, athletic t-shirts, and all kinds of places with the completely wrong understanding of what is being said. We tend to take it in a “Yeah, you can do it, you can achieve anything!” sort of way. Paul, however, is not using it in a “rah rah, let’s go team” sense. He is giving thanks to the church of Philippi for their prayers, because it was those prayers which cried out to God to give Paul strength to endure much suffering, and it was through those prayers that God ministered to the hearts of both the apostle and the church.
I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.I can do all things through him who strengthens me.–Philippians 4:10-13
No matter what the world may believe about prayer, about the power of God shown in weakness, we the church must persist. I must persist, even as I am weak in my pursuit of holiness. We must persist in seeking after the Lord, because in that we are putting our hands to the plow and stirring up the soil. And when we are done praying, we must stand up, and go out into the world and serve, and love, and minister to the broken and downtrodden.
This is what frustrates me so much about the thoughts and behaviors that tend to typify American evangelicalism, because so much of it involves running from the world around us and hating it, not in a “I hate sin and how it destroys my life and therefore I will preach the gospel” way, but in a “I am more righteous than the world and don’t want to get my precious hands dirty touching it” way. The former brings a drive to serve and love your neighbor. The latter causes you to hate and hide from your neighbor.
I encourage you to hear the words of Charles Spurgeon, and cry out to God every day, whenever it comes into your mind, to strengthen the church, to feed His sheep, and to lead us to righteousness. I ask you, my brothers and sisters, to obey Jesus in making Him first and foremost in your minds as you seek for answers to tragedy in a dark and sinful world. And I encourage you: no matter what it is that you are facing, do not let yourself become discouraged, nor let yourself grow idle. Walk through all of life looking to the cross of Christ knowing that He is the one all things come from, and to whom all things point.