Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Matthew #17: You Are Salt and Light

Sermon Text: Matthew 5:13-16

Introductory Comments

The Sermon on the Mount moves now from the beatitudes, which we finished last week, to a couple of clear declarations by Jesus about who the disciples are. Disciples of Jesus are salt, and they are light. We should note that Jesus does not say that the disciples should be salt and light, or ought to be salt and light. Disciples are both these things. So the big questions you need to ask yourself, the question that stands over this text for all disciples of Jesus, including me, is this: Am I living as the kind of person I actually am in Jesus Christ, or am I not? Let that question settle in your minds as we begin to unpack each of these terms.

One of the things Jesus is very, very good at is using the most familiar things to illustrate eternally important truths about who humans are, and in his case who his disciples are.

Disciples Are Seasoners

Let’s begin with verse 13:
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet.
Several years ago there was a trend in the publishing business where writers would present histories of commodities, things like gold, coffee, sugar, and such. I happened to buy one of these books, a very interesting book called “Salt: A World History” by Mark Kurlansky. You might be thinking: What on earth could be so interesting about the stuff that we sprinkle on our food using little shakers or packets to give food some ping? Salt merits a “world history?” In fact, it really does, and the short little book makes the case very well. Did you know, for example, that there were times in human history when salt was worth more than gold by weight? More than just a seasoning for food, salt was at times a medium of exchange (money). It’s used as a preservative. The phrase, “that person is worth their salt” refers to a time when salt was actually used to pay salaries, a word that is derived from the word salt.

Beyond its uses in the world, salt is essential to human life. If you sodium levels get too low in your body, a condition known as hyponatremia, you might suffer from nausea, confusion, fatigue, muscle weakness or cramps, even seizures. That is why products like sports drinks contain salts. If you work out and just drink a bunch of water, you might dilute the salt content of your body too much, and so these drinks include salts to ensure that this doesn’t happen.

So salt is critically important for a variety of reasons. We may take it for granted, but salt is an essential element of flourishing human life.

This means that Jesus is making a very important statement about the disciples. When he calls them “the salt of the earth,” he is telling them that they, like salt, are an essential component of human life and flourishing. That has radical implications for those of us who are disciples of Jesus Christ. We are granted, by virtue of our discipleship, an extremely important position in the world. Dale Bruner thinks referring to the disciples as salt means that Jesus, “is very fond of us."1

When Jesus says, “you are” that is a plural you. The disciples are the salt of the earth. Because he is referring to the disciples as an assembled group this scripture today refers to the church. The church collectively, and individually, has a high calling by Jesus. You all are of critical importance to the world. The world might view the church as a relic of a bygone era, but Jesus has established it as the means of human flourishing for the world.

Salt, as I’ve said, has lots of applications. For example, salt seasons food that is bland and tasteless. Disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ are the seasoning that gives flavor to bland and tasteless lives. At the conclusion to his letter, Paul gives the Colossians directions about how to behave toward those who are outside the faith. Colossians 4:5-6 says
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
Do you know anybody who has ever complained that they just can’t find meaning in their lives, or that their lives are boring? This isn’t the case with the Christian, who has been made eternally alive in Christ and who has a passion to bring that same vibrancy of life to others. That is what it means to be salt. To be salt of the earth means that Christians have a global calling to be the salt that brings flavor to tasteless lives.

Jesus knows what he’s doing when he equates his disciples with the incredibly valuable commodity of salt. Being the salt of the earth is way more than just doing good things for people, being salt brings life to people. A human being will die without adequate salt in the body. Similarly, people will suffer eternal death unless the church is what our Lord says she is, the salt of the earth, the means of sustaining eternal life in people that would otherwise only know eternal destruction. To be the salt of the earth means to bring the message of salvation and hope and joy to those who don’t know where to find them, who are lost apart from the saving sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Jesus is clear what happens if we don’t live as the people we are created to be. If we aren’t salt of the earth, if we say that we are followers of Jesus and yet do not live as the salt of the earth, then we are, as Jesus says, “no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.” It is when we do not live as the people we are that we become useless in the world. The church today struggles to find meaning and relevancy in the world. It would do better to remember what it already is, salt of the earth. This truth should permeate our own church and our own lives. If we are the salt of the earth, then life will not be boring for us. Bruner speaks truth when he says, “Salt does not exist in itself.” Salt is useless if it just sits there. If we are not living as the salt of the earth, the earth will simply not be interested in the church at all.

You Are the Light of the World

Jesus now uses another metaphor to call his disciples into action, in Matthew 5:14-16
“[14] You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. [15] Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. [16] In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Our Lord Jesus also declares that his disciples “are the light of the world.” We were warned about uselessness in the previous verse, but now Jesus grants to us the assurance that, if we are truly his disciples, we will be put to kingdom use.2 We are the light of the world. And the one who is the source of that light won’t hide it under a basket, but will place that light high up on a stand, where its rays might shine to the greatest extent.

God did not save you and then forget about you. He saved you for a purpose that is outside of yourself.

Our Light Is A Reflection of Jesus’ Glory

As the light of the world, we are to let our light shine, unbounded by constraints or worries about what others might think, so that when the world sees us and the good things we were saved to do, they will desire to give glory to the Father. When people look at the church, at any local congregation of believers, we should not be surprised, but rather hope that they ask some questions: “What is with these people? They are doing good things, but they’re not seeking credit for them. They don’t seem to care if nobody notices the good things they do? What’s up with that?”

Earlier this year, Sara and I attended a conference on Missions held in Minneapolis. There were several pre-conference talks on the schedule, and since we live in Minnesota we arrived early and were able to take in several of these presentations.

One of the first presentations was by a man named Jeff Vanderstelt who is big into missional communities and their role in planting new churches. Every member of Jeff’s church has to make a firm commitment to mission in his or her lives and have to plan how that is going to happen.

One day, Jeff and his fellows were meeting with a married couple that stated that they wanted to be salt and light in their communities, but then some reasons came out for why this wouldn’t be possible. The husband was a full-time student, and the wife worked to support the family and their three children.  The woman, in particular, had concerns that in order to be effective in mission, she would need to quit her job and become a stay-at-home mom of three.  There just wasn’t space in the schedule to participate in most of the mission activities of the community.

In response, Jeff and the group with asked the question: What would it take to allow you to quit your job, become a stay at home mom, and do the work of mission for the glory of Christ?

The mom looked back, wondering what was up. “What do you mean?” she asked. “We mean, how much money would it take to allow you to quit your work and take up a mission opportunity for Jesus.” The woman couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She told them what it would take. Immediately, the people in attendance make concrete financial commitments until the total number was achieved. Then they gave her the money.

What happened next is very interesting. This woman began telling others about how this amazing thing had happened, that her church friends had secured a way for her financially to throw herself more deeply into the mission of the church. People were happy, and wanted to know how such a thing was possible. When she told them what happened, there were lots of quizzical responses, especially from nonbelievers. They wanted to know why anyone would part with their own financial resources to allow someone else to quit their job and take on a life of mission for Jesus. All of those questions allowed the woman to tell them about Jesus, about how Jesus Christ produces people with these capabilities and capacities and empowers them to serve him.

Jeff Vanderstelt concluded this story by saying that is how others should see our lives. If we are salt and light, people will wonder what on earth is going on. What is with these people? What makes them tick? Why do they do the things they do? The only answer that makes sense is that it is the gospel that makes these kinds of people. It is Jesus who calls people from dead, tasteless lives and saves them, through his sacrificial death on a cross, and then gives them a commission and empowers it with the Holy Spirit so that we can be his missionaries, proclaiming his word and showing his love to a broken down, bland world shrouded in darkness. Disciples are salt and light, and live in such a way that the only answer for why they live together and love each other as they do is because of what Jesus has done for them.

A big, big problem for the church today is that people, when they see the church, too often see a pale image of the bland, dark world they already live in. The answer isn’t to work harder or to promote ourselves more. The answer is to remember what we already are in Jesus Christ.

Believers, disciples, followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, you are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You don’t need wonder about this, because your Lord has established this truth by his own word. Maybe you’re wondering what the next step it. Let’s talk about that. There are so many ways God can make use of your in your roles as salt bearers and light bringers. You are already qualified for the work because you believe in Jesus and have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Christian discipleship all about becoming what you already are. That means you are free to take some risks. You’re free to walk away from a job, free to turn off the TV, go outside and tell someone about Jesus without fear. You’re free to volunteer in one of the church’s helping ministries. You’re free to teach children about the bible. You’re free to stand up here on a Sunday to help lead the worship of our God and King. You’re free to prepare and deliver food to saints and others who have need. You’re free to give generously to the ministry and mission of the church. You’re free to sponsor a child through World Vision or a similar ministry. You are after all, salt and light. You were made to bring zest and flavor to the lives of others. You were made to reflect the very glory of God to others. You were saved for this. Let’s get to it. Amen.

1Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007. 188.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
December 4, 2011
2nd Sunday in Advent
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Matthew #16: Blessed Are the Persecuted Ones

Scripture Text: Matthew 5:10-12

Introductory Comments

This week, while so many in our country were enjoying Thanksgiving and shopping, great blessings of liberty granted by to us as undeserved gifts from God, I spent some time in preparation for this sermon looking through news stories posted at a website of the organization “The Voice of the Martyrs” (at Before I share them, I want to let you know that these difficult stories are not something we are used to hearing. But I think we need to hear them, because Christians globally are part of the same body. 1 Corinthians 12:26 says, “If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.” When a member of the body of Christ is persecuted, we ought to know about it.
Kenya - Last Saturday, Nov. 5, suspected extremists sympathetic to al-Shabab threw a grenade into a church elder’s home outside Garissa, Kenya, killing 8-year-old Winnie Mwenda Mutinda and 25-year-old John Kikavu. Three others in the house were seriously injured. The church’s pastor, Ibrahim Makunyi Kamwaro, told Compass Direct News that the three injured Christians are now in stable condition after undergoing treatment. … Despite the threats and attack, the church continued its worship service the next day.1

Burma - A young Christian in Myanmar was forced to choose between faith and family recently when her relatives demanded that she recant her faith. On Sept. 19, 2011, 21-year-old Ying was preparing to leave for classes at an underground seminary when her relatives locked her in the house. They threatened to disown her, beat her and withdraw support — including food — if she continued to attend seminary or church. In addition, they threatened to send her to a remote village with no known Christians if she did not recant her faith. Instead of giving in to their demands, Ying ran away from home and left her family behind2

Nigeria – Muslim extremists carried out new attacks on villages in Nigeria’s Plateau state in September, killing more than 100 Christians, including entire families, according to Compass Direct News.3

China – In another example of the ongoing crackdown against house churches in China, house church pastor Shi Enhao was sentenced to two years in a labor camp last month. Pastor Shi, who serves as deputy chairman of the Chinese House Church Alliance, was charged with “illegal meetings and illegal organizing of venues for religious meetings.” The charges stem from the fact that Pastor Shi’s house church of several thousand meets in different sites around Suqian city.4
The website has page after page of news alerts and updates from across the globe. Some of the stories are much more violent that the sample I’ve chosen. You may also remember, from an earlier sermon, my mention of Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani who still, as far as we know, continues to languish in an Iranian prison cell under a death sentence, separated from his family, for the crime following Christ. The much-lauded, so-called “Arab Spring” in places like Egypt and Libya has, tragically, often brought more rather than less persecution upon disciples of our Lord Jesus.

This week, my wife Sara lent me her copy of a novel entitled Safely Home by Randy Alcorn, strongly encouraging me to read it. The novel is about the extreme persecution of Christians in China. While a work of fiction, the novel nonetheless includes accounts of actual persecutions in that country – persecutions that are never known about or reported because of media lockdowns in that country, and because of our country’s willingness to turn a blind eye to these things for the sake of tapping into the explosive economic growth in that country – growth that is, among other things, supported through the deployment of prisoners as slave laborers.

It is interesting to me, then, that on this first Sunday of Advent God would, in his providence, give us this text from Matthew for the sermon. Traditionally, the first Sunday in Advent is devoted, not to the first, but to the second coming of our Lord Jesus, the final Advent when he will come in final judgment, bringing eternal punishment for those who reject him and eternal vindication for those millions of Christians who, because they do not enjoy the religious liberties like those of our own country, suffer intensive persecution for the sake of their faith in Jesus Christ, Lord and King of all the nations.

One Beatitude? Or Two?

Our text is frequently counted as two separate beatitudes, but many scholars believe verse 11 to be a flushing out of the beatitude in verse 10. And as I have read and prepared for this sermon, I lean toward this interpretation. Why? The two verses are very similar. Both speak of persecution. Both speak of blessing and reward for suffering persecution. It seems clear, however, that verse 11 answers three questions about verse 10: First, what is the persecution Jesus is speaking about? Second, what is the “righteousness” which incites the persecution? Third, who are the ones being persecuted?

What Kind of Persecution?

In verse 10, Jesus says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The blessing is limited in scope to those who are persecuted. What kind of persecution is this? The answer, I believe, is given in verse 11: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”

To be persecuted is to be reviled by others, which means being criticized in a deeply angry, insulting way. These persecuted ones are people against whom all kinds of evil are charged, falsely. One of the earliest examples of persecution in the ancient church was the false charge that Christians engaged in ritual cannibalism. This was probably the result of misunderstanding what was happening at the Lord’s Supper and references to the body and blood of Jesus. Christians were also accused of atheism, which may seem very strange, but the source of the charge was the Christian refusal to worship the state-sanctioned gods of the Roman Empire. Any such refusal was considered to be a declaration that the gods did not exist, when in fact Christians were worshiping the only God in existence. Many suspected that ancient Christians were immoral libertines, engaging in incest and orgies. We live today in an almost 180-degree environment, where orthodox Christian are now maligned for holding to old-fashion, fuddy-duddy sexual ethics, which happen to be biblical, while false idol of sexual libertinism is now celebrated by the world.

What Is the Righteousness that Incites the Persecution?

Persecution will come, says Jesus, for “righteousness’ sake.” What is this righteousness that incites persecution? What kinds of pursuits are righteous? We can only know of righteousness through God’s revealed will for us in the Scriptures. Christians need to be lovers of God’s Word, but they need to know that adhering to the Word as truth will bring persecution. We guard ourselves against false piety and false interpretation by consulting the Word with other faithful, orthodox believers.5

But something deeper can be said to answer this question from verse 11. In verse 10, those who are persecuted are persecuted for “righteousness’ sake.” I think Jesus tells us what this means in verse 11. There, he makes things very personal.
“Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
The “those” in verse 10 are called “you” in verse 11. The “you” in verse 11 is explicitly the disciples, and in this reading today that includes all of you who are disciples of Christ. You will be reviled, persecuted, and evilly slandered because of your relationship to Him, Jesus. Jesus says this persecution will come “on my account.” This is really why I think there is a linkage between verses 10 and 11. We know from the bible that no one, including Christians possesses any righteousness in themselves. Paul, in Romans 3:10, quotes the psalmist when he writes
as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.
So what is the righteousness that is pursued and, as a result of being pursued, brings persecution? It is the righteousness that is Jesus Christ. Paul explains this in 1 Corinthians 1:30:
And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Christ is our righteousness. Christ is our righteousness because we do not have any righteousness of our own. This is the essence of the gospel. If you acknowledge before God your sin, confess it, and acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and your only hope of righteousness, you are saved. The reason you are saved is that by faith in Jesus, His righteousness is imputed to you, it is credited to your account and you are totally free from condemnation for sin.

But it is this very relationship to Jesus as Lord that will invite persecution. The implications are huge: Persecution is a marker of being a disciple. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, you will be persecuted for it. Why? Because if you are a follower of Jesus, and not just a fan, everything else in life takes second place. If Jesus is the object of your love and affection and loyalty, that means your nation isn’t, and that will invite persecution. If Jesus is your first love, that means your families are not, and that will invite persecution (remember the daughter who ran away from her home?). If Jesus is your love, then his Word, his commandments and expectations will always come first, and not those of the world, and that will invite persecution. If Jesus is your highest treasure, that means other gods and religions and spiritualities are not, and that will invite persecution. This has always been the case.

Bruner remarks that "Christians are only supposed to get into trouble for the right reasons."6 Jesus is the right reason.

My Desire for Our Church

One of the reasons I opened with the stories of persecution is that I wanted to awaken in you a desire to stand with those who are persecuted. This is the responsibility, I think, of those who enjoy a much greater degree of freedom to worship than many millions of our brothers and sisters. I desire us to be a people who, while not persecuted, have the passion for Christ of the persecuted, the compassion of the persecuted, the drive of the persecuted, the perseverance of faith of the persecuted, the risky lives of the persecuted, the audacity of the persecuted. My hope is that God will use the promise of this blessing in this message to set all of us free from our complacency and our need to live in constant comfort and with approval from others to live for the approval of the only One in the universe whose approval actually matters, Jesus Christ.

I want to remind you of the promise of Jesus of the great rewards that await those who are faithful amid persecution. The rewards for those women and men are amazing. We ought to rejoice that God has created such people, people whose faithfulness to Christ has ignited gospel revival. May we also receive such grace.

Our Response for Those Persecuted

What can we who do not routinely experience extreme persecution to do in solidarity with persecuted brothers and sisters do? There are several things.

First, we should always remember persecuted brothers and sisters in Christ in our prayers. We should pray for their safety, for the perseverance of their faith, for their families, that beatings and torture will not weaken but actually strengthen their faith, and for the continued spread of the good news of the gospel.

Second, in many countries there is a shocking shortage of bibles. One of the paramount pleas of the persecuted, underground churches is for copies of God’s living Word. We have so many bibles sitting on shelves here in the United States. Perhaps someone could organize a drive to get bibles to brothers and sisters who are starving for God’s Word.

Third, and this is from our text, we ought to rejoice! We need to sing God’s praises for his power and might in creating such faith in the hearts of the persecuted. As we look over the lists of those who are martyred for the faith, even as the tears may flow, sing praises to God for faith and for faith’s reward, the eternal inheritance of the kingdom of God for those who are in Christ Jesus.

And on this first Sunday in Advent, let’s us pray that the second coming of our Lord might come soon. The writer of Hebrews had this to say to his listeners:
But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners [we are those partners today] with those so treated. For you had compassion on those in prison, and you joyfully accepted the plundering of your property, since you knew that you yourselves had a better possession and an abiding one. Therefore do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised. For,
“Yet a little while, and the coming one will come and will not delay; but my righteous one shall live by faith, and if he shrinks back,my soul has no pleasure in him.”
But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. (Hebrews 10:32-39 ESV)
Our Lord Jesus Christ said:
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 5:10-12 ESV)
Rejoice and be glad, brothers and sisters. Lord Jesus, come soon! Amen.

5Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007. 181.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
November 27, 2011
First Sunday in Advent
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Matthew #15: Blessed Are the Peacemakers

Sermon Text: Matthew 5:9

Introductory Comments
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
You could not get through this past week, I think, without concluding that the world needs more peacemakers. We’ve got multiple wars going on, families have disintegrated, our politics are deeply conflicted. We recently learned about the horrible crimes committed, aided, and abetted at the Penn State, as clear a demonstration as I could think of that our culture has a deeply confused, even missing sense of what is fundamentally right and wrong. This kind of moral confusion has even made its way into the churches, as it often does, introducing conflicts in the one institution where we are called upon by our sovereign Lord to be a people of peace, and who said to his disciples in John 14:27, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”

So it should come as a great assurance to us that God is a God of peace, and that he grants peace to those who believe in the Son, Jesus Christ. And it should not come as a surprise that those who God calls to be peacemakers should be richly blessed by our Lord in today’s text.

But what is this peace that is behind Jesus’ blessing of the peacemakers?

Biblical Peace Is Comprehensive in Scope

The word “peace” has a much broader meaning than the contemporary meaning. The word your English bible translates “peacemakers” is derived from the Greek word for peace, a word that is commonly used to translate the Hebrew word shalom, a word you might be familiar with. This peace, biblical peace, is not just an inner peace experienced by individuals. Neither is this a peace that is simply the absences of all conflict or war. I’m reminded of that funny scene in the Sandra Bullock movie “Miss Congeniality” where she plays a character who goes undercover as a beauty pageant contestant in order to foil a bomb plot against the pageant. During the Q & A part of the pageant, each candidate comes up and dutifully tells the audience what they think is the single most important thing the world needs. “World peace.” Bullock’s character takes the microphone and answers the question, “What is the single most important thing the world needs this way, “That would he harsher punishment for parole violators, Stan.” Crickets. Anticipation. Disbelief from pageant watchers everywhere, until Bullock’s character continues by restating the mantra “… AND, world peace.”

The biblical view of peace, or shalom, is very broad. Bruner defines it as “a situation of comprehensive welfare,” and I think that’s a pretty good definition.1 Biblical peacemakers are concerned with far more than their own sense of inner calm, or ensuring that there’s no violence exhibited anywhere on earth. Those two things are both good and important, but I think they are actually products of the peace the bible speaks about. Biblical peace is a situation where everyone in the community lives in a just relationship with everyone else. What does such a peace look like? I think such a biblical peace would be like that which was present in the Garden of Eden before the fall of Adam. The man and the woman were at peace with God, they were at peace with each other, and they were at peace with the creation. Everything was in proper relationship with everything else.

What Happened to Shalom?

But the fall of Adam destroyed that shalom, and the result has been a broken world where disaster is commonplace. After Eve and Adam ate the fruit of the tree from which the Lord commanded that they not eat, God confronts fallen humanity with these words in Genesis 3:16-19:
To the woman he said, “I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”

And to Adam he said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”
In this passage, you can see how the sin, which began with an individual deception, resulted in something much larger. The one-flesh union of the man and the woman is embroiled with conflict. The earth is cursed. Death came to be because of human sin. This first sin, like all sins, had communal consequences and cosmological consequences, because sin is, first and foremost, a rebellion against God.

So we live world that is not just filled with fallen sinners, but the world itself is a fallen place. We don’t live in peace with anything. We are constantly butting heads with people, exhibiting prejudice and malice toward others who think differently from us, and we suffer the tragedies of a fallen creation. The shalom which was intended by God for humans from the beginning of creation was shattered by our sin. And because we have inherited that sin, we are all, individually and collectively, responsible for the marring of shalom, of God’s peace, today.

What Do the Peacemakers Do?

The bible teaches us that it is God’s desire, shown first to us in Christ, is to restore shalom in His creation. And so, people who answer the call to work for this kind of world are granted blessing by our Lord Jesus Christ. What to peacemakers do? They work to bring restoration to the relationships disrupted because of our sin. Peacemakers live in such a way as will bring about (1) restoration of people to a right, just relationship with God, (2) with each other.

Restoring Right Relationships with God

To restore a right relationship with God is to do the work of evangelism with people everywhere. Jesus commands the following at the close of this gospel:
Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20).
To make disciples means proclaiming the good news of the gospel of Jesus so that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, sinners might be gathered into God’s kingdom. True peace is only possible if there is peace between God and human beings. Such a thing is possible in Christ, who suffered the penalty that was due to us for our sin so that we might know the peace of being right with God, of having no fear of judgment at all for any sin we have, are, or will commit. Having a right relationship with God is essential for the establishment of shalom on earth. People who do not have a right relationship with God in Christ will not know the kind of peacemaking that is at the core of this blessing. Peace with God comes at great cost, the cost of the life of his precious Son. Having been granted such a gift frees us from worry and fear, and enables and empowers our own peacemaking work. To say that an evangelist is a peacemaker may seem unusual, but I think it is true. Evangelists are all about proclaiming the message that Holy Spirit uses to bring people to God through the sacrifice of his Son. By working to bring people to faith in Christ, God’s kingdom shalom breaks further into the world. Paul, writing to the Romans, says this in Chapter 5:1
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Those called and claimed by faith in Jesus have the absolute, rock-solid assurance of salvation at the Last Judgment, and therefore know true peace.

Promotion of Social Righteousness

One of the great ends of the church, as stated in our constitution, is the “promotion of social righteousness.” What does this mean? It means to have a passionate concern for injustice in the church and in our society. Peacemakers come to the aid of those who are victims of unjust relationships between people. They have a passion for the poor, the destitute, the emotionally shattered, and the physically abused. Peacemakers work to bridge gaps between hostile groups, as God has reconciled us to Himself through the blood of Christ. Listen to these words from Ephesians 2:13-16:
But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.
Those “who once were far off” refers to the Gentiles, to those who were not of the tribe of Israel. With Christ and his perfect fulfillment of the law, all of the barriers of the law that formerly distinguished between these groups were broken down so that there would be one people from all the nations of the world. What is the root of this new reconciling work? Jesus. “For he himself is our peace.” Because salvation in Jesus can be found no matter what your race, nationality, or economic background, there can be true peace between people. This knowledge empowers the peacemaker for the work and the calling of bringing people together. So peacemakers work on the sinful barriers that separate people today – racism, poverty, hunger, thirst, violence, abuse – all of these things sinfully separate people from one another. Peacemakers work to bring people together, as God reconciles has reconciled sinners through the cross. They put themselves out there for the most helpless in our society, the disabled, the unborn, the unwanted. They are empowered to do this work by the Holy Spirit, and when this happens, God’s peace continues to grow and flourish in the world.


The hope of the gospel is the hope of those who do not, at present, know any kind of peace. This shalom peace is to be first demonstrated to the world by the church, with the promise that it will ultimately be fulfilled when Christ comes to redeem the whole creation, the whole cosmos, according to this plans for permanent, eternal peace and joy.

People who have been reconciled to God through Christ and given the gift of the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit do not have the luxury of pawning off the responsibilities of peacemaking to others. Pastors can’t pawn it off on members, and members can’t pawn it off on pastors, and churches can’t pawn it off by simply writing checks. Christians who have been so graciously grafted into the kingdom of peace in Christ will, over time, grow in their peacemaking ability and engagement.

The Blessing – To Be Called Sons of God

The blessing for peacemakers is that they will be “called sons of God.” People who do this kind of work will be blessed by becoming adopted joint heirs with the naturally born Son of God, Jesus. To be “called” sons of God does not mean simply having a title, it means you are “called” as in “brought in to the divine family.” You are granted a seat at God’s table in the Kingdom of Heaven. Some people, when texts like this are read, might mistakenly believe this blessing is only for men, but this would be totally wrong. What this means is that for all who are peacemakers, male or female, will be treated as “sons” of God, meaning they will be joint recipients of a divine inheritance granted to Christ for his victory over sin and Death. Those joined to Christ, who do the work of peacemaking, will receive everything Jesus has received from his heavenly Father, which is nothing less than the kingdom of God:
Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40 ESV)
All our peacemaking activities must be conducted as if we were serving our Lord Himself. You cannot love Jesus without loving those whom he calls “least of these my brothers.” To claim that you love Jesus and then to ignore totally the injustices of society is total hypocrisy.

Notice that those who engage in Godly peacemaking do so almost without noticing it. That’s how you know God is at work in you. You’ll be surprised at your generosity with the poor and stranger. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Amen.

1Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007. 177.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnsota
November 13, 2011
33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Matthew 14: Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

Sermon Text - Matthew 5:8

Introductory Comments
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
The beatitudes continue this week with Jesus giving his blessing to people who are pure in heart. The blessing they receive is “they shall see God.” We need to address the same fundamental questions here that we have with the other beatitudes: What does it mean to be “pure in heart” and what is the nature of the blessing? As we do this, we’ll see the thing in this beatitude that will shape much of the way Jesus will later speak to the religious leaders of his day, the Pharisees and scribes. I conclude this is the case because Jesus does not say to those listening, “blessed are the pure.” Instead, he says, “blessed are the pure in heart.” The difference between those phrases explains almost the entirety of Jesus’ ministry in Matthew and is behind his confrontations with the religious leaders of his day – the Pharisees and scribes.

Jesus Desires Purity of the Heart – Not External Appearances

The first thing we can conclude from this text is that Jesus considers purity of the heart to be of critical importance. What does this mean to be pure “in the heart?” In Hebrew thinking, the heart includes the entirety of a person’s core, and it includes the totality of a person’s mind (and its thoughts), emotions, and will.1 So when Jesus blesses these people, he’s talking about the purity of everything that is at the center of a human being. The heart is the thing that makes a human tick. What do we know about this heart? We know two main things:

The first thing we know about the human heart is that it is corrupted by sin. That is, our minds, our thoughts, our feelings and emotions, and our wills are not as they should be. The prophet Jeremiah testifies to this truth when he wrote this about the human heart (chapter 17:9):
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?
The reason the human heart has been corrupted by sin is because of the sin of Adam. As children of Adam, we are born with corrupt hearts that have a predisposition for evil and rebellion. It is deceitful about all things. The biggest liar you will encounter in life is the human heart. It is desperately sick, which means it is beyond health and restoration. The heart, in other words, needs rescue. It needs to be shocked in order to be restored to proper function.

The second thing we know about our hearts is that God knows their complete contents. God always know every detail of our spiritual condition. We know this because of what God says next in Jeremiah (17:10):
“I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”
We will see several times in this gospel that Jesus knows what is going on in our hearts at all times.

This text from Jeremiah also shows us the third thing we know about our hearts: The state of our hearts determines how we live. God knows the contents of our heart, and has promised to search them out thoroughly in order to administer true justice. But notice this: The Lord tests the hearts on the basis of what? It’s on the basis of a person’s “ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” There is a deep connection between the contents of the heart and what a person does.

Jesus knows this too, which is why his concern in his ministry was the purity of the human heart. He didn’t really care much for the outward appearance of righteousness. For example, later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus will address the topic of adultery in Matthew 5:27-28. Here is what he says:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
Think about that for a minute. You can live your entire life without committing the outward act of adultery, and Jesus says that isn’t sufficient evidence of purity. If a man looks at a woman with lustful intent, you have already committed adultery with her in the heart. The heart is the issue. The lack of physical adultery isn’t evidence of righteousness at all. This same principle can be applied in other ways. You may never actually take something that belongs to someone else, but you may think ill of your neighbor for having something you think you deserve. That’s called coveting. It’s an inordinate desire in the heart for something that isn’t yours.

In fact, Jesus will really go after the Pharisees on this issue. The Pharisees were very big on external performance and demonstrations of righteousness. To this, Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). There is no reward in heaven if you perform a deed of righteousness in front of others so that they can see how good you are! Jesus then immediately applies principle this in the case of gifts to the needy (6:2-4) and the loud, public prayers said at the street corners (6:5-6).

If we skip even further ahead to Matthew 25:25-28, we read these woes (woes are the opposite of blessings):
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. 
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
The point from this beatitude and from this gospel could not be clearer: Jesus is infinitely more concerned about the purity of your heart rather than your outward performance of deeds of righteousness for the sake of appearance. You can play a good game and have your name lauded in the newspaper, you can have perfect worship attendance and a perfect tithing record, but God’s concern is this – What is the condition of your heart?

For the Christians, the ethical demand in this blessing is purity of heart. But in our sinful condition, the condition so clearly identified by Jeremiah, how can anyone be pure in this way, such that they can see God? The answer is: No human can do this of his or her own will, especially since the human will itself is corrupt. Something must break into that broken human heart so that it even has a chance at the kind of purity that results in the blessing promised here by Jesus.

The pure in heart have to be made that way by the power of God. Those who are so blessed have been granted a purity that must come from God, because we lack any competency for purity because of the sin dwelling within us. King David sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba, an act that resulted in a pregnancy that he then tried to cover up in ways that resulted in the death of Bathsheba’s husband. He was confronted by the prophet Nathan about this sin. One of the outcomes from this story was the famous penitential Psalm number 51, which David wrote when his sin was exposed. What did David pray for? He prayed for a clean, pure heart (Ps 51:7-10):
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.
What does God delight in? Truth in the inward being. David knows that the only chance he has for true forgiveness for everything he has done is if God, in his mercy, creates a clean, pure heart within him.

That is our only hope as well. Our only hope for a pure heart and for the blessing of this beatitude is if God grants his purity to us. The good news, the gospel, is that he has provided the means by which we can have pure hearts. He has done this great thing through the person and work of his Son Jesus. By faith in Jesus, all of the brokenness and impurity and sin that has marred your heart, your will, your emotions, your mind, the core of what is you, is washed away by His blood. What God sees in your heart, then, is not your sin, which is forgiven, but Jesus’ purity and spotlessness. That then frees you from immobilizing fear so that you can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be obedient to Christ out of love.

Moreover, when God performs this miracle in the human heart, he also grants the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who then begins the work of refining your heart so that it becomes more and more like the heart of Jesus. And that process doesn’t stop until you die or the Lord comes in glory. Acts 15:9 says,
...and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.
The cleaning of the heart is granted by God by the means of faith in His Son, Jesus.2

The Blessing – Seeing God

What about the blessing given to those who are pure in heart, to see God? I want to give you a just a few texts in the bible so that you can see just how stunning this blessing is. It is stunning because, apart from Christ, seeing God isn’t possible.

Back in Exodus 33, as he makes intercession on behalf of the rebellious Hebrews, Moses asks God for a huge blessing: To see his God’s glory. In response, this is what God said (Exodus 33:19-20):
“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”
Not even as dedicated a servant as Moses is granted the blessing of seeing God’s face. Nobody can. When Isaiah, in Isaiah 6:1, sees the Lord sitting on the throne, he cries out “Woe is me!” This should probably be heard like the cry of someone condemned to death. Isaiah has no wings to cover his face, as the seraphim attending the Lord did. And so he says, “For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

God’s perfect sinless purity and holiness lays bare every single sin of every single person and exposes it to the universe for all to see. In the light of God’s sovereign judgment for sin, there is absolutely nowhere to hide. Isaiah knows this, and cries out in great fear and terror. The corrupt heart cannot withstand God’s perfect holiness.

But God, in his great mercy, has decreed that there will be those who by faith will believe in Jesus Christ and his purity. And so they will get to see God.

Those who are called to believe will be in God’s presence. They will see him in all of his splendor and majesty directly. We are granted this blessing partially now, because Christ, the Christ of the Scriptures, is the very “image of the invisible God” (as Paul says in Col 1:15). Later, in Col 2:9, we learn that “In him,” Jesus, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” If you have faith in Jesus, you already are enjoying this blessing partially. But when he comes again to claim his bride, you will have a direct experience of God’s glory.

We know this because of what is written in Revelation 22:4, “They [the saints] will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” Moses could not see the Lord face and live. But when God completes the sanctification of his children they will be granted the eternal blessing of seeing him in all of his wonder and beauty and all-satisfying perfection. Oh what a time that will be, loved ones! What a time that will be! Blessed are the pure in heart! Amen.

1Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007. 175.
2I am grateful to John Piper for this observation in a sermon he gave on this same text.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
November 6, 2011
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Matthew 13: Blessed Are the Merciful

Sermon Text: Matthew 5:7

Introductory Comments

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

We have learned these past weeks that the beatitudes are first and foremost blessings to specific people in specific situations. The same is true with this beatitude, but the people described here are people who are merciful, that is, they demonstrate mercy in their lives. Jesus blessed these people with mercy. I believe, based on what the bible teaches, that this one word, mercy, is a good one-word definition of the gospel of God. Mercy is the one thing we need more than anything else (whether we know it or not) and it’s also the one thing that many people don’t think they need or are unwilling to grant to others. Or, if they think they need mercy, they need it for the sake of saving their own skins, rather than seeing it for what it is, a way to finally be in communion with the God who created us. There are two kinds of people who desire mercy, therefore, those who desire it because it holds forth the promise of loving and enjoying God forever, and those who seek it out because it’s fire insurance. The difference? In the first case, those who are seeking mercy seek it because it is the only way to know the joy of knowing and treasuring God. The others are satisfied with the things of God, including mercy, but have no passion for the joy of God Himself. They love the things of God rather than the Giver of those good things. Jesus clearly seeks out the former with this blessing.

What Does Mercy Look Like?

Up to this point, I’ve begin each of the beatitude sermons by describing the individuals who are receiving each of the blessings, followed by a description of the blessing itself. I can’t do that this week, because the blessing itself is in the same category as those who receive the blessing. That is, those who show mercy are granted mercy. So this week, the best way to illustrate what mercy is and its application to us is by sharing a short story. The story isn’t my own, it’s from the magnificent book Les Misérables, which ought to be required reading for every Christian. It’s length can be intimidating, but don’t buy any useless abridgements. Victor Hugo knew what he was doing, and you won’t be disappointed.

Some of you may know the story. It’s about a man named Jean Valjean who, at a young age, was imprisoned for stealing some bread for his hungry family. His original sentence was five years, but after four failed escape attempts he ends up serving nineteen years in prison. Upon his release, he is given a “passport,” an identification document that is, as required by law, colored yellow in order to identify him as a prison parolee.

When we meet Valjean in the story, he is trying to find food and lodging in the town of Digne. In each tavern and inn he visits, he is rejected out of hand because of his passport. It is October, and the nights have grown very cold. He continues on, trying a private residence where he offers money for a small portion of their family meal. Again he is rejected. He even goes to the local jail and asks to spend the night. The jailer tells him that that jail isn’t an inn, and that if he wanted to stay there he would have to get himself arrested. He is finally reduced to wandering around until he finds what he thinks is an unoccupied dog kennel. A threatening growl evicts him even from this place.

At one point he passes by the local cathedral. He shakes his fist at it as we walks by.

Tired, hungry, and cold, with nowhere left to turn, Valjean collapses on a hard, stone bench. An old woman comes out of the church and approaches Valjean, and asks him what he is doing. He angrily explains his situation, and accepts her offering of money. Valjean explains to her that he’s tried all the doors in town to no effect. The woman asks him if he’s tried the door to the church. He says no. She instructs him to knock there.

And so he does. And the elderly bishop opens the door to him. There, Valjean receives a welcome and a meal and a warm bed for the night.

The bishop in the story is very generous man, eager to use the privileges of his divine office to help the poor. As a result, he himself didn’t have much of value, but the bishop’s household had within it a valuable silver service includes plates and dining utensils. Also present were two very large, silver candlesticks.

In the middle of the night, Valjean wakes up, takes the silverware and dishes and takes off. The next day, he is returned to the Bishop’s residence in the arms of the police, having been caught with the valuable silver items which clearly belonged to the Bishop. Here the story takes a crucial, life-giving, merciful turn. The Bishop would have been well within his rights to take back what was stolen, which would have resulted in totally disaster for the prison parolee Valjean.

Instead, here is what happened.
“Ah! Here you are!” [The bishop] exclaimed, looking at Jean Valjean. “I’m glad to see you. Well, but how is this? I gave you the candlesticks too, which are of silver like the rest, and for which you can certainly get two hundred francs. Why did you not carry them away with your forks and spoons?”1
The police cannot believe what they are seeing. Had the bishop really given this valuable silver to the prison parolee? The bishop reassures them, and they release Valjean and leave.

At this demonstration mercy, Hugo writes, “Jean Valjean was trembling in every limb … [he] was like a man on the point of fainting.”

The story continues:
The bishop drew near to him, and said in a low voice: “Do not forget, never forget, that you have promised to use this money in becoming an honest man.” Jean Valjean, who had no recollection of having promised anything, remained speechless. The Bishop had emphasized the worlds when he uttered them. He resumed with solemnity: “Jean Valjean, my brother, you no longer belong to evil, but to good. It is your soul that I buy from you; I withdraw it from black thoughts and the spirit of perdition, and I give it to God.”
From that point on, Valjean is a changed man. Changed from without, having been shown unmerited mercy by a man from whom he had violated the commandment given by God, “Thou shalt not steal.”

Who Are the Merciful?

When Jesus speaks about blessing the merciful, he is blessing people who show the kind of mercy shown to the criminal Jean Valjean by the bishop. This is the mercy of the cross, where we, thieves and liars and murders and slanderers and adulterers and rumor mongers, receive unmerited mercy. The cross is where the greatest mercy of all was shown, because it cost the Son of God infinitely more than a few possessions or silver baubles. It cost him his blood, his life. He took upon himself the punishment you and I deserved for our sin, so that our souls would be liberated from sin and death and hell for the purposes of glorifying God and enjoying him forever. “Jesus sought me when a stranger, wandering from the fold of God; He, to rescue me from danger, interposed His precious blood,” to quote Robinson’s famous hymn.


What we see in Valjean’s life is that he becomes a vessel of mercy himself. The transforming grace of God first bought the salvation of the Bishop’s soul. And the Bishop knew that, having been shown such great mercy, he was called upon to show that mercy in his life so that others might know it, too, and know its source, the God who forgives our sins by his grace.

The merciful in this beatitude have been made full of mercy to the point of overflowing. And in blessing others with the mercy which they have received, they are given the blessing of mercy. Healthy Christian communities are built on this kind of mercy. Having been shown such great mercy, how can we not in turn show our love for God’s mercy by sharing this mercy with others?

How does this kind of mercy play out in life?

This is a mercy that grants quick forgiveness to those who have wronged us for any reason. This is a mercy that’s in the trenches, that’s willing to part with money and time and effort for the sake of the salvation of someone else. As Dale Bruner wisely notes in his commentary on this passage, morality in Matthew is merciful.2 It’s not an on-high morality that disdains and avoids the undesirables. That would be living life like the innkeepers who rejected Jean Valjean in Les Misérables. To live mercifully before God is to live with a sense of compassion of others, to be willing to join with others in their miserable condition to grant them mercy. John Calvin says that the merciful are those “who are not only prepared to put up with their own troubles, but [who] also take on other people’s troubles.”

While this blessing is simply declared upon the merciful, it doesn’t stop there. The declaration necessarily leads to action. Those who are shown mercy expected to show mercy. That is the huge implication for the church today. If you have been saved by grace alone through faith alone in the Jesus Christ and Him Crucified, what that means is that you are a bought person. That is why Paul can say to the Corinthians, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor 6:19-20). You were once in the same place as the totally lost convicted criminal Jean Valjean, who upon being informed that his soul now belonged to God, necessarily became an increasingly merciful person, at times at great cost to himself.

What kind of people shall we be? Shall we be the kind who show false mercy from “above” and keep our hands clean of trouble, or will we come along side those who long for mercy and relief, or even under them if necessary to help them up, so that they can see the mercy of God in us? Are you demonstrating the kind of mercy shown when God stooped down in the person of His Son to grant to us what we most longed for – mercy and release from bondage of condemnation? There is great blessing in this beatitude, but also grave caution. The one who receives such mercy, and who fails to exhibit the same in his or her life, will have demonstrated that they were happy with the things of God, rather than with God. In the Greek, the “they” in “they shall receive mercy” is included for emphasis. It is the ones who show mercy who will receive mercy. That means, like the other beatitudes, this blessing doesn’t necessarily apply to everyone. Those who do not show mercy will not receive mercy.3 They will be like the unforgiving servant who, in Matthew 18:25ff, was shown great mercy and forgiveness for his great debt, but refused to show similar mercy to a man in almost identical circumstances. The refusal to show mercy to those in misery is evidence that the heart was never really transformed. The unforgiving servant wasn’t really mercy-full, having been granted overwhelming mercy himself. He wanted the mercy, but that was all he wanted. Jesus won’t stand for this among those who claim be his disciples. And so the parable concludes with these words from Jesus (Matthew 18:32-34):
Then his master summoned him and said to him, ‘You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not you have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt. So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.
One of the big signs you are growing in grace in Christ is that you will become increasingly merciful. Overwhelming love for God drives mercy in our day to day lives. Remembering the cross fosters a desire to be merciful that is rooted first in the love of God, which causes us to love our neighbors by showing mercy, including to those who you earlier thought didn’t deserve it, because they made some bad choices or committed some kind of sin which, if you were honest, you probably also committed at some point. How can a people who have been shown such grace then refuse to show it to others? It’s just not possible, for those who really are saved. There are so many people in our community who have never known mercy, and who by being shown mercy may receive the salvation of God and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Showing mercy to others shows the glory of our Savior, whose death God’s perfect exhibition of mercy for us. Being merciful draws people to Jesus.

So this beatitude is blessing, but it is also a description of the life of someone who has been saved by grace, and its an exhortation to us to live in faithfulness to Christ Jesus our Lord. Twice in Matthew, our Lord quotes Hosea 6:6, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice.” Unmerciful, heartless living is ungodly and brings judgment. Merciful living brings mercy and glorifies the God who has shown us such great, undeserved mercy toward us in Jesus. The church is called by God’s grace to be place where people will mercifully answer the door when someone knocks, not the place at which people shake their fist when they walk by. Amen.

1All quotes from Les Misérables are taken from the 1887 Thomas Y. Crowell & Co. edition [now public domain], translated by Isabel F. Hapgood.
2See Dale Bruner, 173.
3Ibid., 174.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
October 30, 2011
31st Sunday in Ordinary Time
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew

Monday, October 24, 2011

Matthew 12: Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

Scripture Text: Matthew 5:6

Introductory Comments
“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."
As we begin examining Jesus’ words in the fourth beatitude, I want you to notice a subtle shift that has taken place. The first three beatitudes are all about people who simply lack something: They are impoverished and pained by their poverty. They are in mourning and deep sadness. They are meek, powerless according to the standards of the world. In each case, Jesus’ blessing supplies the very thing each group lacks. The impoverished inherit the kingdom of heaven. Those who mourn will receive comfort. And those who are powerless will inherit the earth.

The fourth beatitude also describes people who lack something, specifically righteousness. But in this case, they also have something going on inside them - a longing for that which they lack. That longing is expressed using terms that especially resonate with the poor and oppressed – hunger and thirst. Those of us in the developed West can have a hard time seeing the gospel in this text, because we are a people more worried about ruining our appetite than we are where our next meal will come from. So to understand how this text has any bearing on us today, we need to unpack a few things and then, if it pleases the Holy Spirit, show us how text shapes us today.

Who Are the Ones Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness?

Who are these people who hunger and thirst after righteousness? Before we can go any farther, we need probe a bit at what Jesus means by his use of the term righteousness. We need to know this, because the bible uses this term in different ways. Is Jesus here speaking of a righteousness that belongs to God? Or is Jesus speaking here more of a moral righteousness among those who lack it? In other words, is this a text about the righteousness of God granted to us by grace? Or is this righteousness more right living in our relationships with one another? The first kind of righteousness is the righteousness of God that Paul speaks about many times in his letters. This is a righteousness that is outside of us, but first comes to us by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ, the perfect human who fulfilled all righteousness for us. In other words, is this a righteousness that depends on the saving work of Christ on our behalf? Or, is Jesus speaking here of a moral righteousness. That is, righteousness before God in the way human begins treat one another which flows from the grace given to us in Christ?

This has been debated for awhile in commentaries on this text throughout the years. It seems that the contemporary scholarship on this has settled on the latter form righteousness. In other words, this blessing is for those who hunger and thirst to live in a way that honors God.

But I think there is an intersection here between these two forms of righteousness. Paul, who lived life as a pious, law-observant Pharisee, knew this. We know that he knew this because of the wonderful passage in Romans 7:15-25 where he describes what can be called the frustrating life of the Christian. He knew that God demanded perfect righteousness as expressed in God’s law. Paul also knew that he routinely did things that were totally contrary to the commands of God. He illustrates this to the Romans this way:
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
Paul says, “For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out.” In other words, Paul states that he longs to live in ways pleasing to God, in righteousness, but that he lacks the capacity to do so because of his sinful nature. Is that a place where any of you find yourself this morning? That is the longing that is blessed by Jesus in his text. And he concludes by saying that he’s basically in a no win situation. He knows what he needs to do, but is incapable of doing it because of sin. To where can such a person turn? To Christ. And so Paul explodes with joy that Christ, by his righteousness for us, supplies the righteousness that we lack:
Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are, like Paul, aware that they fundamentally lack righteousness before God. The are granted that knowledge, I believe, by grace. People who do not know how horrible unrighteousness is before a perfect, holy, God will not long for righteousness. In a way, then, this beatitude is like the one from last week. The blessing of righteousness from God is granted to those who are blessed to know of their unrighteousness, which creates a longing for that which they lack. And because they are aware of this lack, and long for that righteousness before God, they will be given what they lack. It will be given to them. They do not have to earn it. This means we are again talking about gospel grace in this blessing.

So I would argue that the ones who hunger and thirst for righteousness have had their eyes opened so that they can see the consequences and effects of unrighteousness. They have been made aware of their mistreatment of others. They are aware of the unjust systems that intimidate and influence us in ways that produce unrighteous living, producing sexual sin and greed and pride. They know about their short tempers and prejudices against others.

They also know unrighteousness because they’ve been on the receiving end of unrighteousness: bullying, racism, meanness, fraud, debasement, addiction, divorce, and abuse. So the people being blessed here are well aware of their own unrighteousness and powerlessness to turn, and they know about it because they’ve been treated unrighteously, have suffered as a result, and perhaps even desire unrighteous feelings of revenge.

And because they are aware of the holiness of God, these are people, who really, really, long for things to be put right. They long for their own conduct to honor the God who created them, and they desire to not be victimized by the unrighteousness of others. They are those who therefore hunger and thirst to obey both great commandments, to love the Lord with everything they have, and their neighbors as themselves.

I think the one of the ways God accomplishes the new birth by means of the Holy Spirit is that this longing is implanted in those who know they have no righteousness of their own, no capacity for right, moral conduct apart from the one who is by nature righteous and holy.

Again, that longing, I would argue, is a blessing in itself. Totally lost sinners are not concerned about God-glorifying righteousness in their lives. Oh, they desire to look good and righteous by worldly standards, because that feeds self-approval and pride. That’s why we need to be constantly reminded that the beatitudes are not a self-help guidance for right living. These are particular people in particular places who are in need. Jesus blessed them. This really needs to be understood if we are to grasp the gospel here in this text. Jesus did not say, “Blessed are the righteous.” Jesus didn’t come to those who were in great physical, financial, emotional, and spiritual shape. When confronted by the Pharisees about his habit of hanging out with sinners, Jesus said, in Mark 2:27, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” Righteous people don’t need a savior. Sinners do. And so Jesus grants his blessing now to those who lack the righteousness for which they hunger and thirst.

What the Blessing Jesus Gives to the Hungry and Thirsty?

The blessing Jesus grants to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness is this: Satisfaction. They will be filled up to the brim with the thing they long for, but presently lack.

Greek word for satisfaction is the verb χορτάζω, (choratzo), and it appears here in the future tense, meaning that this blessing Jesus is granting now will be fully realized later. The verb is also in the passive voice, which means that this filling up will be accomplished not by the person receiving the blessing, the satisfaction will come from someone else. When these passive verbs appear in our text, they are called “divine passives,” meaning that the one performing the action or fulfilling the promise is God. This means that the blessing Jesus grants to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness before God will be given to them by God.

When Christ comes at the end of the age, God will satisfy this hunger and thirst for righteousness. This makes the use of the words hunger and thirst very powerful. You have to wait until the end for the satisfaction. That’s why, I believe, healthy, maturing Christian disciples are aware of this place in between the righteousness they long for and the fulfillment which we are called upon to endure with joy and patience.

What does this satisfaction given by God look like? Let me give you what I hope is a helpful example:

If you have ever seen the 1989 movie “Driving Miss Daisy,” you will know that the last scene of the movie is perhaps the most powerful one. In that last scene, we see Miss. Daisy, a wealthy white woman of the South, now confined to a home. She is visited by her son and also her longtime black chauffeur, Hoke Colburn, on Thanksgiving evening. Daisy, longing for one-on-one time with her friend Hoke, abruptly excuses her son from the room by inviting him to entertain the nurses. Hoke then sits next to Daisy. They make some small talk, asking each other how they’re doing and so forth. And then Hoke notices that Daisy has not eaten her Thanksgiving pie. Hoke pulls her plate in front of her and hands her a fork. But Daisy now lacks the ability to take the fork into her hand, and is unable to eat that which has been placed in front of her.

Seeing her struggle for the pie she longs to taste, Hoke takes the fork into his own hand, scoops up some of the pie, and then places it her open mouth, Daisy’s eyes partially closed with anticipation. This is where I start to get emotional, because this is pumpkin pie we’re talking about. She takes the pie into her mouth, and a small smile breaks over her face as she enjoys what has been given to her by her dear friend.

Now, if you don’t know the rest of the movie, you might conclude by saying, “What a nice scene. What a nice thing Hoke did. How sweet.” But that would be an inadequate response. Because with that small act, layers upon layer of tense racial and economic separation, resentment, indignity, and injustice come crashing down. The Jim Crow-era racial divides between the white Jewish aristocrat woman and her black male servant are annihilated in that moment. The class barriers between the wealthy person and her much poorer working class servant were obliterated. He, in suit and tie, feeding her, formerly impeccably dressed, now in her dressing gown, and all of that division is wiped away when he gives to her what she cannot give to herself, a simple taste of pumpkin pie. This last scene presents to us deep satisfaction that goes all the way into the heart.

If there was ever a picture of what this text says to us today, that’s it. Throughout the entire movie, you long to see the artificial divisions separating these two beautiful people be destroyed once and for all, but you have to wait until the last scene for satisfaction. You long for an expression of righteous love between these two protagonists, and it comes, finally, at the very end.

The same is true in this beatitude. The blessing receiving now is the promised of a supremely sweet, joyful satisfaction that comes later, when the time is fulfilled and Christ comes to reign in glory. And if God has granted you this longing within yourself, this is the kind of satisfaction and fulfillment you can count on, times a million.


There is not really a simple application of this text. This is the case for blessings. They are received by grace, not earned by merit. They are Jesus’ doing from beginning to end.

So I end with this invitation - If you have been brought here this morning and have become, by God’s grace, deeply aware of your sin and inadequacy, and you long for that righteousness which alludes you because you, like Paul, know that perfection on this side of the cross is impossible, then you are, in the hearing of this word, by the power of the Holy Spirit, recipients of this blessing. The blessing is for you and all those like you in these circumstances. Know that you are blessed by Christ now with a satisfaction of your longing that will be completed at the time of his coming. Don’t worry about trying to make yourself pleasing to God. You can’t do it. Instead, accept Christ’s righteousness as your own, fully, so that you’re freed from fear of punishment for a life of obedience rooted in love. Amen.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
October 23, 2011
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew

Monday, October 17, 2011

Matthew 11: Blessed Are the Meek

Scripture Text: Matthew 5:5

Introductory Comments

As we consider the third beatitude, I wanted to illustrate what the world frequently thinks of those who are meek. I chose some examples from the two factions that argue most vocally about human economic issues. One voice from the political left, speaking in Los Angeles at a recent rally, part of so-called Occupy Wall Street protest, had this to say to a group of energized protesters. Using a bullhorn, the man referred to a famous non-violent activist of recent memory in India as a “tumor that the ruling class is using to constantly mislead us.” Later, this same man said, “So, ultimately, the bourgeoisie [the upper class wealthy] won’t go without violent means,” alluding favorably for something like the violent and deadly French Revolution, suggesting that the same course of action might be necessary in our nation to rectify perceived social ills and economic inequality.1

And lest you think I’m only picking on liberals and socialists, the same philosophy can be found in the most ardent, conservative capitalist who, forsaking what the vaunted Adam Smith knew was necessary for healthy capitalism, namely, a sense of common morality, will not hesitate to run all over the “little person” in the greedy pursuit of wealth because, well, that’s just the way the world works. You remember the famous scene in the 1980s movie “Wall Street,” the one where Gordon Gekko, capitalist extraordinaire, says with deep seriousness to a rapt audience during a shareholder meeting, “The point is, ladies and gentleman, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit [survival of the fittest]. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.”2 Maybe you remember the late billionaire Leona Helmsley, who was quoted as having said, “Only the little people pay taxes.”

The “evolutionary spirit” referred to by the fictitious Gordon Gekko is that which captures the imagination of many, many lost souls on the left and the right, who believe that the acquisition of worldly power is the way to the top, to either achieve a utopian vision of world order on the earth, or to achieve maximum wealth and success. According to the world, the powerful are the blessed. The meek are those who, in both cases, get in the way.

And as we continue our examination of Jesus’ beatitudes, we see that it is the meek that He blesses with an inheritance consisting of nothing less than the entire earth. Jesus says to these folks, “You get it all.”

Who Are the Meek?

The word “meek” is heard a bit differently today than it was several hundred years ago when, for example, the King James Bible was published. The Greek word is πραΰς (praus), which the most significant NT dictionary defines this way: “pertinent to not being overly impressed by a sense of one's self-importance, gentle, humble, considerate, meek.”3 The meek, in other words, are not prideful; they are not deluded that they are “somebody.” They have a gentle comportment and have consideration for others. They are, in short, precisely the kind of people whom are run over by those of all persuasions who have bought into the worldly, materialistic, evolutionary spirit of our age. They are, according the standards established by the world, powerless.4

At this point I should remind you that the beatitudes cannot be reduced to a list of virtues. These blessing are for particular people in particular situations. Jesus is placing himself on the side of these people, and granting them blessings in a real way, in a kingdom-of-God way that overturns the power-based logic of the world. Jesus has declared that he is decidedly for those who are poor in spirit, who are in mourning, and now those who are meek which renders them powerless according to the ways of the fallen world. Those who are in the world, who are striving to take possession of the world and its’ things, are precisely the ones who will not inherit anything at the end. They have already received their reward.

What Are the Blessings Jesus Gives to the Meek?

Jesus blesses the meek by revealing to them that they will receive the earth. I take this to mean that the ones who, according to the powers and principalities of this world, strive to possess and control the world now will have already received their reward, but when the kingdom of God comes and Christ returns to reign in glory, all of the riches of the world will be granted to those who most resemble the meek, lowly God-man, born in a mangers, sleeping in a feeding trough, from the backwater town of Nazareth, who, despite the longings of the crowd for a Messiah of great power and might, acted with gentleness, humility and meekness. Why are the meek blessed by Jesus this way? Perhaps it is because those who are meek are the ones most likely to have the kind of mind the apostle Paul exhorted the Philippians to have, in Philippians 2:5-8:
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.
In other words, the Son of God, who is the heir of God by birth, became meek, so that those who are meek might become co-heirs of everything granted by the Father to the Son.

Therefore, it strikes me that there are actually two blessings in this verse. The obvious blessing is that the meek ones will get the whole earth. The second blessing is one easily bypassed: To be granted the earth as an "inheritance" means that a prior blessing has already been granted, that of being adopted into God's family. It is only by virtue of their adoption that the meek are qualified to receive the inheritance.

Don’t people who come from the same family generally share a resemblance to one another? I like to think the same thing happens in God’s kingdom. Those who are granted God’s gracious family inheritance share attributes with their great Sibbling, Jesus. They meek are, humble, obedient people. The fallen world has no use for such people, and when they are faithful and obedient this way, the world will actually kill them to get them out of the way. The leftist revolutionary will kill them off for not being engaged fully with the struggle, while the right-wing amoral capitalist will annihilate them to acquire their meager possessions. The world is eager to get rid of the powerless meek, just as the world was eager to get rid of the Son of God by means of execution on a cross.

God is really, really for people like this. He really wants them in the family. He wants them because they are the ones who will praise his glory the most when they are vindicated by being so richly blessed by his grace. The rich, well-to-do, powerful, proud, self-sufficient, self-righteous ones of the world have no desire to praise God in this way. Why would they, when they have their best life now? No, it is to those who have nothing, who are mourning, who are meek and powerless in the eyes of the world, it is these people who, when they are granted blessings, respond most fully with love and praise and adoration at the glory of the great God who holds the little ones so closely to himself.

This is the essence of the gospel. Jesus is making it clear who the candidates are for entry into the kingdom in these beatitudes. Entry to the kingdom of God, and adoption into the divine family as sons and daughters of God, comes exactly to those individuals the world would rather do without, thank you very much. The kingdom of God comes to those who are destitute and are longing for rescue. The kingdom of God comes to those who are in mourning and grieving their loss and their sin. The kingdom of God comes to those who are meek and powerless. These are not virtues. These are people living in bad places, bad situations, and bad conditions. These are people Jesus is especially for.

He’s for those people who have nowhere left to turn and nowhere left to run. Perhaps you are among their number.


I’ve said earlier, and I think this is right, that the beatitudes are not virtues. Many, many modern commentaries and interpretations and sermons treat them this way. It’s good to be poor. It’s good to be in mourning. It’s good to be a meek person, a nobody. If you are looking at this list, and concluding that you must become this way in order to earn God’s favor, you are missing the point of the beatitudes. There is nothing anyone can do to receive God’s blessing. If there was, then there would be no such thing as grace. Grace means receiving from God that which is undeserved and unwarranted because of our disqualifying, abominable sin. God is especially for those mentioned in the beatitudes because they are already in the condition where they will most likely respond to God’s graciousness with praise and worship.

You might say, “Well then, what if I’m not poor and feeling it my bones and awake at night with worry? What if I’m not in mourning? What if things are going quite well and I'm doing okay? What if I’m not by nature, meek? What if I’m a type-A achiever who gets things done? Am I just overlooked here by Jesus? You just said I shouldn’t aspire to these things as virtues because then I’d be trying to buy salvation and blessing from God. So what am I supposed to do? Do I stand condemned because I don’t fit in with this radical scheme that Jesus is setting up here?”

These are very important questions and I’m glad I’ve asked them for you. To begin with, I think much of what we try to project in the power-driven, fallen world in which we live is a ruse to cover up the exact things the world holds in derision – poverty, mourning and sadness, and meekness. We try to cover up our inadequacies in ways that earn worldly praise, but the root problem still exists.

The answer to these questions is a matter of the heart, ultimately. What do I mean? I mean that, indeed, God will not be manipulated into granting blessings to those whose interest isn’t His glory, but saving their own skins. God is not interested in your performance for him. He just isn’t. God is interested in what you feel in your heart for him. Do you love him? Do you love him in the person of his Son? Do you recognize in your heart that your very life, your every breath, and all that you have comes to you purely as a gift of grace? Has that knowledge changed your heart in such a way that you cherish him above all things? And, as a result, do you cherish him enough to follow him wherever he may take you? In short, have you been born again and received the gift of eternal life in Christ?

How does receiving that gift play out in real life? Here are some examples:

Does the knowledge that Jesus sacrificed everything for you on the cross give you such joy and hope and security that you could, in a heartbeat, if he called upon you to do so, give up everything you have? Are you willing to become impoverished to the point where it hurts for the sake of his glory? Is your important job or comfortable retirement worth the salvation of a poor sinner? Remember the rich young ruler?

Is your heart so full to overflowing with joy and love for Jesus Christ crucified and risen that you are willing to let your heart to be broken, to be rejected for the sake of the His name in the world? Are you willing to risk a friendship ending for the sake of proclaiming eternal salvation in Christ? Peter and James rejoiced that they suffered shame for the name of Jesus.

Are you, because of God’s total acceptance of you and your adoption by him in Christ is more precious to you than anything else, willing to set aside power and prestige and fame and importance and pride so that the glory of God may be more clearly seen in you? In other words, are you willing, like John the Baptist, to decrease, to become meek, so that Jesus, who became meek and powerless for you, might increase in fame throughout the world, beginning right here in Jackson?

You will only be willing to suffer these things for Jesus if your heart has been transformed by the miraculous intervention of the Holy Spirit so that you know and feel the overwhelming, all-satisfying joy of his grace. My prayer is that everyone in this room has known this grace, or will, if it please God, be shown such mercy, so that we can say, together with the Apostle Paul in Philippians 1:21: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Perhaps you are feeling the tug of Christ’s call right now. Don’t wait, let me or someone in the church know, so that we can pray for your and support you in your new life in Christ. “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Amen.

1Video and transcription available here.
2From the 1987 movie “Wall Street” starring Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko. Video here.
3BDAG, πραΰς.
4See Bruner, 165, on issues related to the translation of πραΰς.

Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
October 16, 2011
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew