Thursday, 15 October 2009

Hope in the Beatitudes - peacemakers called sons of God

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9)

Remembering that the first 4 beatitudes are linked with the second set of 4, we can see that those who are meek will be peacemakers. Those who are submitted to the will of God will seek to make peace.

What kind of peace are we talking about? I believe this is referring to peace between God and men. Paul says “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Cor 5:17-21).

Prior to being in Christ, man in his natural state is under the wrath of God – “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him” (John 3:36). We are at enmity with God. Peace with God is impossible whilst we continue to rebel against Him. Yet “when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son” (Romans 5:10). Once God in His grace opens our eyes to receive the gospel message, we can then be reconciled to him through repentance and trust in Christ. We go from being enemies of God to being at peace with God. “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand” (Romans 5:1-2). How awesome is this! Jesus himself is the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Nothing is more important for man than to be reconciled and at peace with the One True God.

So a peacemaker, having himself received peace, will seek to bring peace between other men and God. Those who are meek and submitted to God’s will seek this peace for others too. For this is God’s will: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). The return of Christ is delayed so that God can have mercy on all those who seek peace with Him. Just as God delayed the judgement of the flood in the days of Noah because of his mercy, so too he delays judgement now because of his mercy. Genesis tells us that when Enoch had a son, he called him Methuselah, which means “his death shall bring”. It appears as though Enoch was given some kind of prophecy regarding the coming flood (see Jude 14-15), hence the name of his son. In the very year that Methuselah died, the devastating flood came on the earth. Methuselah lived the longest of any man in history, he was 969 years old when he died. This demonstrates the mercy of God in withholding judgement to the very end. Today, God is showing mercy in allowing men time to repent and come to Him and be at peace with Him before the return of Christ.

This then is the heart of evangelism, to bring peace between men and God, through proclamation of the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Oh God, I pray you would bring opportunities for me to proclaim your message of salvation, that men may come to be at peace with you through Christ.

The promise given by Jesus is that peacemakers will be called sons of God. Those who believe in Him are born again into a new family, born of God, transferred from darkness to light, from death to life. We receive a spirit of sonship, of adoption when we believe, that cries out "Abba, Father". We can now relate to the awesome God of the universe as our Heavenly Father, instead of fearing His wrath. Thank God for this amazing news! How great is the love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called children of God!

Monday, 12 October 2009

Hope in the Beatitudes - pure in heart will see God

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8)

I confess at the outset that this beatitude has caused me some problem. The other beatitudes seem to be focused on our recognition of our sin and a longing for righteousness external to ourselves. This beatitude at first sight seems to be suggesting that our hearts should be pure – the very opposite of what I know to be true about my heart.

Prior to the flood that God sent in Noah’s generation, the Bible tells us that “The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5). Even after the flood nothing has changed, for the Lord said “Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood” (Genesis 8:21). I don’t believe there is anything in the Bible to tell us that this state of affairs has changed, that the fundamental nature of humanity has somehow improved over the years. Jeremiah tells us that “the heart is deceitful beyond all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer 17:9). Jesus confirms the wickedness of the human heart, saying “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander” (Matthew 15:19).

So what hope do we have of having a pure heart? The answer, in our own strength, is none. Trusting in our own efforts to improve ourselves is pointless, fruitless.

Thank God that he gives us hope of a pure heart. The Lord says through Jeremiah “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour, or a man his brother, saying ‘Know the Lord’, because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest” declares the Lord. “For I will forgive their wickedness and remember their sins no more”. (Jeremiah 31:33-34). The Lord promises to Israel through Ezekiel “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:26-27).

As Gentile believers, we are grafted in to both these promises of a new heart. Repentance and trust in Christ leads to rebirth and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit into our hearts. “[God] anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come” (2 Cor 1: 22). The Holy Spirit will create a pure heart in us, conformed to the likeness of Christ. We can’t do this work of sanctification, it is all of God and all of His grace. “When the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons. Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out ‘Abba, Father’” (Gal 4:4-6). This Spirit of Christ, dwelling in our hearts, is pure and holy. Praise God!

Thus those who mourn over their sin and repent will receive a new heart, indwelt by the very Spirit of Christ. The believer is then exhorted to live by the Spirit and not gratify the desires of the sinful nature – “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.” (Gal 5:17). So begins the daily battle against the flesh.

Thank God that with this new heart though, we have the promise of seeing God. Throughout the Bible we are told by God that “no-one may see me and live” (Ex 33:20). I believe the reason for this is the presence of sin in us, which can not come before a holy God. Thus our need for a mediator between God and ourselves in Christ. Yet one day, when all things are made new, “the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” (Rev 22:3-4). There will be no need for a mediator in those days, after all sin and unholiness is banished. We will see God, face to face. How amazing! How utterly amazing is the grace of God.

Thursday, 8 October 2009

Hope in the Beatitudes - merciful shown mercy

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy” (Matthew 5:7)

Having looked at the attitude of the Christian before their heavenly Father, the beatitudes now seem to move on to our attitude towards people. This will always happen, for as we realise how loved we are by God, this will impact on our view of our fellow man. Love of God always results in an impact on our love of our neighbour – if it doesn’t, then it isn’t love of God. The apostle John clearly summarises this: “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loves us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” (1 John 4:7-11).

God in his mercy sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins, whilst we were helpless sinners, enemies of God, and certainly not loving Him. Now that the wrath of God has been averted by the sacrifice of Jesus, we can enjoy the love of God in relationship with Him. Now that we have been the recipients of such mercy as this, how can we be anything but merciful to those around us?

Some commentators have noticed a correlation between the first 4 beatitudes, and the next 4. So those who are poor in spirit will be merciful – those who mourn will be pure in heart, those who are meek are peacemakers, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be persecuted.

The poor in spirit are those who recognise they have no right to stand before a holy God. They bring nothing to God, and can approach him only by appealing to his mercy, displayed in the sacrifice of His Son. “But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy” (Titus 3:4). The poor in spirit have experienced great mercies from God. Knowing and appropriating the mercy of God will lead to a merciful attitude towards others, for we know that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), and there is no boasting before God. We are no better than anyone else, no matter how “bad” we might think their sin is. We were under exactly the same sentence before God revealed himself in grace to us. In God’s eyes there is no sliding scale of sin, with some sins worse than others. All sin is offensive to Him and requires death. All sin equally can be washed away and forgiven through trusting in the perfect sacrifice of Christ. How amazing is this? And how offensive it is to our pride! My sin separates me from a Holy God in exactly the same way as an axe murderer’s does. My sin requires the death of a perfect sacrifice in exactly the same way as a paedophile’s does. My sin can be washed away by trusting in Christ in exactly the same way as a terrorist’s can. “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law” (Romans 3:27-28).

So all of mankind alike is under the same sentence of death. All of mankind alike can be saved from this wrath of God by trusting in Christ to save them. How can we be anything other than merciful to our neighbour in view of this truth?

Monday, 5 October 2009

Hope in the Beatitudes - hungry & thirsty will be filled

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled” (Matthew 5:6)

Having recognised our spiritual bankruptcy before God, mourned over our sin, and submitted ourselves to His perfect and holy will, we will recognise our need for righteousness.

We in the West do not probably fully understand what it means to hunger and thirst for something. Having suffered with an eating disorder at one point in my life, I do know what hunger feels like – it is a constant pain inside, you can’t ignore it, and it occupies your thoughts every waking moment. Jesus is saying our awareness of our need for righteousness should be like this.

Our righteousness is not something we can generate for ourselves. It is an external righteousness, which has to be given to us. The Bible tells us that man’s heart is wicked. The only righteousness we can hope for is the righteousness of Christ. He is the Righteous One (1 John 2:1). When we first believe in Christ, his righteousness is imputed to us. As we go on believing in Christ, the Holy Spirit helps us to become righteous – but this is not our own righteousness, it is His. “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col 3:3).

One problem I have suffered with is that as Christ works in me and I find myself living more obediently to Him, I tend to confuse His righteousness with my own, and take pleasure in myself and a perceived “self-righteousness”. I always find this is dangerous ground to be walking on. When things are going well in my Christian life, and by God’s grace I find that I am developing more Christ-like character in certain areas, and putting to death the misdeeds of the body in other areas, this often results in self-reliance. I am not so aware of my need for forgiveness when I come before God, and I become satisfied with my Christian walk. How can this be? Even on my best day as a Christian, I desperately need the forgiveness of Christ, for my very best works as a Christian have no merit before a Holy God, they are all tainted with sin. Jesus warns us against self-reliance, when he says “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done on our duty’” (Luke 17:10). No matter how much God’s grace is working in us, we must always remember we are unworthy of His Kingdom. It is only because of Christ that we are adopted as sons into God’s family.

This is the warning that Moses gave to the Israelites just before they entered the Promised Land. He warns them that when things are going well for them in the land not to forget the Lord, otherwise “your heart will become proud...You may say to yourself ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me’."(Deuteronomy 8:14,17). Again he warns them that after the Lord has driven out their enemies from the land “do not say to yourself ‘The Lord has brought me here to take possession of this land because of my righteousness’. ..It is not because of your righteousness that the Lord your God is giving you this good land to possess, for you are a stiff-necked people” (Deuteronomy 9:4,6). As we walk with God, and in His grace He begins His work of sanctification, let us beware of beginning to confuse His work with our own. Any goodness in me is His, not mine, for “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature” (Romans 7:18).

We must always go on hungering and thirsting for the righteousness of Christ, never being satisfied with what we know of Him, as the Psalmist says “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Ps 42:1-2).

As we hunger and thirst for this righteousness, then Jesus promises we will be filled. We will know peace within our souls, as this righteousness brings us peace and reconciliation with God. We will know that we are adopted as sons of God, and will be able to relate to God as our Heavenly Father. We will know that we have an inheritance stored up for us in heaven. We will know that when Jesus Christ returns, we will be resurrected with an imperishable body. We will experience the love and fellowship of Christ here and now. What blessing is this! Praise God!

Friday, 2 October 2009

Hope in the Beatitudes - meek inherit the earth

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).

Meek is probably one of the most misunderstood words biblically. It is not helped by the fact that there is a hymn by Charles Wesley which begins “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild”. Meekness becomes associated with mildness, weakness, lack of strength. This is in fact the very opposite of what it means. The greek word “praus” is used to describe a soothing medicine, or sailors use it to describe a gentle breeze, or farmers use it to describe a broken-in colt. It is therefore great power under control.

Jesus calls himself meek. So when we read in the gospels that he went into the temple and whipped the moneylenders for desecrating the house of prayer, he was displaying meekness. When he called down woe upon the Pharisees for their misunderstanding of the Law, he was displaying meekness.

Meek people understand who they are before their Heavenly Father. Jesus knew His Father so well and depended upon Him to such an extent that He completely submitted to His will. In his perfection, Jesus models perfect meekness. We, on the other hand, completely unlike Jesus, are sinful. So our calling to meekness involves death – the death of our sinful nature, and living instead to God in submission to Him. It will result in more concern for God’s opinion of us, and less of the world’s opinion of us.

Jesus calls those to him who have been crushed by the law, recognise the burden of sin they carry, and are seeking His mercy: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle [meek - KJV] and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30). Those who are weary of attempting to follow God’s law and yet find themselves unable to do so, burdened by the fact that the law has made them conscious of sin (Rom 3:20) but powerless to do anything about it, can approach Christ empty-handed and find rest in Him. The rest for our souls comes when we trust in Him and His righteousness to save us, and not in our own righteousness which is but filthy rags. His yoke is easy and his burden is light, for He is the fulfilment of the law, He lived it perfectly on our behalf – and His righteousness is credited to us when we believe and trust in Him by faith.

A.W. Tozer says “The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God's estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto. He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring. He rests perfectly content to allow God to place His own values. He will be patient to wait for the day when everything will get its own price tag and real worth will come into its own. Then the righteous shall shine forth in the Kingdom of their Father. He is willing to wait for that day. In the meantime he will have attained a place of soul rest. As he walks on in meekness he will be happy to let God defend him. The old struggle to defend himself is over. He has found the peace which meekness brings.” (A.W. Tozer – The Pursuit of God).

The meek inherit the earth partially now, by obtaining this soul rest in Christ, but it will be fulfilled completely when Christ returns to set up His messianic Kingdom, and meek believers will reign in His Kingdom in complete submission to Him (Rev 20:6).