These last few months have been strange – haven’t they? Even as churches, shops, sports, and restaurants reopen, we have to admit things have changed.
We’d like for things to resume where we left off a few months ago; we know we can’t do that; we know we can’t just pick up and start where we stopped. Maybe one day – we tell ourselves hopefully – but – we must admit – too much has happened for us to just pick up where we left off. We have entered a new age – like it or not. Things have happened over the last few weeks that have shown the weak-spots of our community – our country.
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Many in our community, our country, our world are literally ill. As much as we are opening and as much as we want to open, the virus is still making its presence known. More and more people are venturing out – to restaurants and shops – to church and vacations. And yet – even as we go – we are aware that there is a risk of a virus, tensions over wearing masks, and anxiety over the economic impact.
Our country and our community are clearly ill in other ways as well. George Floyd’s death struck an already exposed and reverberating nerve. His violent and tragic death, coupled with weeks of isolation, confusion, and anxieties over the virus simply pushed things over the edge. Presumably, the events of the last few weeks will make it impossible to ignore what’s been running under the surface of our country for a long, long time.
Don’t worry. This isn’t about politics and I’m not here to get political. I’m here to get spiritual.
Like a lot of folks – I’ve been paying attention to all that’s happening in our community and in our country – and I’ve been wondering what’s the Christian response? It probably should be more than simply returning to our buildings.
In fact, if we have learned anything about ourselves as the church, we’ve learned that we do just fine even when we can’t meet in our buildings. While we love getting to be with one another – face-to-face – we’ve learned that the church really doesn’t need a building in order to gather for worship. We did pretty well over the last few weeks meeting via Zoom. And – we also know the purpose of the church extends beyond gathering for worship.
Because of the state of things – I don’t think we can simply go back to the way things were because, as I said, the last few weeks have shown just how ill our society is and we can’t simply ignore it or pretend that it doesn’t impact us. I believe that the church – that God’s people – have an important role to play and we shouldn’t side-step it.
Our community and our country need God’s people – the church – to function the way we were intended to function; we have been put here by the Lord for such a time as this – to bring healing. But – to be blunt – we aren’t always good at stepping into the mix of things. We may need a refresher in order to understand what to do – I know I do.
Which brings me to the Sermon on the Mount.
The Sermon on the Mount begins in Matthew 5 and goes through 7. Some have said that Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is to the New Testament what the Ten Commandments are to the Old Testament. As one theologian put it, “To read the Sermon on the Mount is to discover what it means to be Jesus’ disciples; to read it with faith is to receive power to be Jesus’ disciples” (Bruner 151).
In other words, the Sermon on the Mount helps us get a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and who we are supposed to be and what we are supposed to do.
Well – the text begins with a notice – “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.  And he opened his mouth and taught them…”
Now, I’d like for us to stop right there for a second and recognize what went on prior to Matthew 5:1&2. If you flip back through Matthew 4 – you’ll discover that Jesus had just begun his ministry and he does two major things. He essentially healed a lot of people and ministered to crowds of people – and he called his disciples.
Jesus was having what we might call success. People were flocking to him. In our day – when someone is able to gather large groups of folks – they usually end up with book deals, marketing plans, and become a sort of Christian celebrity.
But not Jesus.
There are crowds of people flocking to Jesus. He has a successful healing ministry going on – and then Matthew tells us that when Jesus saw the crowd – he went up on a mountain – with his disciples to teach them. He walked away from a crowd of folks – walked away from this successful healing ministry to sit down on a mountain and talk with his disciples.
That is significant.
Why would Jesus do that? Why would Jesus walk away from this successful – crowd gathering – ministry in order to go and teach his disciples – and what does it have to do with us?
I believe Jesus stepped away from what he had been doing because he wanted to bring his disciples into what He was doing in the world. Jesus wanted to teach his disciples to do the sort of things he was doing because that was to be the function of His disciples forever. One theologian said, “Jesus wants to incorporate his followers into his healing ministry and ethic. Jesus apparently believes that when disciples believe, obey, and teach his sermon, they become a sick world’s major antibodies and antidotes” (Bruner 153).
Have you ever thought of yourself in that way?
Have you ever thought of yourself as a healer in a sick world?
Well – it seems like Jesus sees His people in that way and it is rooted in our understanding of who He is and who we are.
Perhaps that is the first lesson from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus pulled away from the crowd from everything else in order to pour into his disciples. I think our first lesson is – we need to pull away from everything else to spend time with Jesus in order to know Him and from that we will get a deeper understanding of who He is and who we are and what we are supposed to do.
But there is a second thing lesson – and let me pass it on to you quickly.
If you look at Matthew 5:3-12 you’ll see that Jesus begins His sermon with a list of “blessings” that really have a profound depth to them – and they are not singular blessings – they belong to one another. In them, Jesus tells his disciples specific things about who they are – who they should be – attitudes and characteristics. So, connected to his efforts to give them an understanding of who He is and invite them into his work of healing the world – Jesus tells them who they are and he ties it together with a list of blessings.
Jesus said,  “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus starts with a bunch of “blessed are…” Of course, we know these as the beatitudes. They are called that because of the word blessing or blessed – which comes from the Latin word beatitudo. Often – when we think of blessed – we think of happiness – but there is a deeper meaning behind that word – especially when it is used here. The reason I am happy when I am blessed is that blessed here means “to be approved, to find approval” and in this context, it means to be approved or to find approval from God (Carson 16).
One theologian pointed out, “Since this is God’s universe there can be no higher ‘blessing’ than to be approved by God. We must ask ourselves whose blessing we diligently seek. If God’s blessing means more to us than the approval of loved ones…or of colleagues…then the beatitudes will speak to us very personally and deeply” (Carson 17).
So right out of the gate – Jesus is telling his disciples that they are blessed or approved by God. So our text could read – “Blessed / approved by God are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
Allow me to ask you – do you ever feel the least bit inadequate? Ever feel like you just don’t measure up when it comes to getting things right with God? Have you ever felt overwhelmed – that you just aren’t good enough – that you just can’t get things right enough when it comes to God? Have you ever taken a good hard look at your own actions or attitudes or thoughts and said – good grief – I’m a mess?
Good because that is exactly how we ought to feel because that’s where things must start in terms of our relationship with God, which is why – I believe – that Jesus starts his sermon with poor in spirit.
In the OT the poor initially were those who were in “literal, material need;” the poor were those who were unable to help themselves – they could not save themselves – they had to look to God for salvation (Stott 38). Eventually, however, the word “poor” began to take on a larger meaning – as it pointed to people who are, as DA Carson says, “spiritually bankrupt.” They have nothing to offer God on their own. John Stott wrote, “Indeed, the very first beatitude proclaims salvation by grace not works, for it pledges the kingdom of God to the ‘poor in spirit,’ that is, to people who are so spiritually poverty-stricken that they have nothing in the way of merit to offer” (Stott 36).
Jesus starts this Sermon off by telling us that the first characteristic of a Christian is that we readily admit that we are spiritually bankrupt and dependent upon the grace of God. We are the first to admit that we are spiritually bankrupt – that we don’t have it all together. It is humbling indeed to admit that we can’t fix ourselves that we a savior – we need God to help us – to save us – because we have nothing on our own to offer the Lord.
That is where spiritual healing begins. It begins by admitting that we are bankrupt – and – frankly – our community, our country, our world needs bankrupt healers.
You see, Jesus pulls away from the crowds in order to give his disciples a deeper understanding of who He is but also teaches them what it is they are supposed to do in order to participate in God’s work in the world. Jesus starts that conversation by telling them that on their own they can’t fix a thing. They must first come to terms with the fact that they are approved by God – blessed by God – because they are poor in spirit – not because they’ve got it all figured out or because they have anything to offer God on their own. No. Bankrupt healers are those who know their own faults and issues and go to God for help. One theologian said, “Simply put, the Gospel poor in spirit are ‘people who recognize that they are helpless without God’s help” (Bruner 161).
This is where we must start. As God’s people, we must take a deep look within our hearts and honestly recognize that we can’t help ourselves. Only then can we begin to offer any sort of healing to the world. Even if we have been a Christian for decades – this is where we must begin. You see, there is never a time in a Christian’s life when he/she doesn’t need Jesus. We will never outgrow our need for the Lord Jesus. In fact, it is the opposite. The longer we walk with Jesus the more aware we become of our own depravity – where it hides and lurks in our own hearts – and that leads us into a deeper appreciation and a deeper dependence on Jesus.
So we begin with our acknowledgment that we are poor in spirit – but we take heart – because we are approved by God – we are blessed – and the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to us. Not because of anything we’ve done – but because of the grace of God through the person of Jesus.
That’s where the healing begins in us – and that is where the healing begins for our community and our country. We must start by acknowledging that not one of us is without sin. No one is righteous before God on their own merit.
Friends, we are on the cusp of a new age – an age that we are still trying to figure out what is the new normal – an age that is angry, confused, and longing for healing even as it looks for someone to blame for its pain. It is into that God’s people are called to go and bring healing. But it begins with us first – getting a deeper understanding of who Jesus is and looking into our own hearts and acknowledging our own spiritual bankruptcy. It is out of our own understanding of our spiritual bankruptcy that we can bring healing to others.