Jesus was busy at work.
It was early in Jesus’ earthly ministry and he was traveling throughout the Galilean countryside showing the depths of God’s love through his actions. He healed the sick and those who faced diseases. He taught in the synagogues and announced God’s kingdom had arrived.
Jesus was busy at work and the people were amazed. Matthew tells us a large crowd, which included his 12 primary disciples, gathered around him wanting to know more. They had questions and knew Jesus had answers. Of all the questions they possibly had for Jesus the one they likely wanted answered was this: What does it mean to follow Jesus? The crowd wanted to know more about God’s kingdom and wanted to hear from Jesus about how to be a part of it.
So, Matthew tells us, Jesus finds a hillside near the Sea of Galilee and takes a seat. In Jesus’ time, religious teachers would sit down when they taught. It was symbolic of having authority. Jesus sits and begins teaches with authority about what it means to be apart of God’s kingdom, because he is the Word and the One who is the way to truth and life. He looks out at the crowd and says if you want to experience God’s kingdom then your life must reflect God’s character and love. Followers of Jesus, he says, are those who live differently and take on the radical, counter-cultural, and challenging life Jesus offers and allow this life to inform their actions.
Living differently is at the heart of Jesus’ words from Matthew 5:1-12. This section of Scripture is commonly known as The Beatitudes and is the opening words from the Sermon on the Mount. This sermon is Jesus’ first major discourse and allows Jesus to express what it means to abandon our lives and to take on the life the Lord desires for us. Unlike Luke, Matthew places these words at the start of Jesus’ ministry. By doing so, Matthew allows these words to inform the remainder of his narrative. What The Beatitudes offer, then, are a framework from Jesus about what it means to live differently and to take on Jesus’ life as our own.
As we continue our series “Fan or Follower,” the familiar words of The Beatitudes offers a way to look at what Jesus asks of us in our lives. There are eight statements, which can be organized into two major groupings. The first four focus on how our soul must reflect Christ’s life, while the last four addresses how this inner reality informs how we relate to each other and the world.
Each statement begin with the phrase “God blesses.” Some translations may use another phrase such as, “Blessed are.” Jesus says God blesses those whose lives reflect these characteristics. So, what does it mean to be blessed by God? Our English translation does not fully interpret the Greek in this instance. What Jesus is conveying is a sense of inner joy that comes from being in a relationship with the Lord. As followers of Christ, our lives are blessed when we are defined by the characteristics and marks of life that Jesus describes here.
However, we must admit that we wished Jesus had used some other characteristics to define those who are blessed by God. None of these are our preferred characteristics of a blessed life. We would have rather had Jesus say something like, “Blessed are those who are rich,” or “Blessed are those whose lives are filled with the world’s best.” Jesus doesn’t use any of our preferred characteristics to describe a blessed life. Instead, Jesus calls us to live differently by abandoning our lives and to take on the difficult and challenging life of Christ.
So, what exactly are the marks that Jesus says describes his followers and this life? He starts with four marks that define a heart devoted to God. Jesus says his follower are poor and realize their need of God. It is easy to connect this idea of poor to only financial matters, but Jesus speaks of something deeper. He says if we want to be known as his follower then we must humble ourselves and find our need in Christ and Christ alone. This means to seek Christ for everything and to find our need only in God’s love. Jesus’ says we will be blessed by this, because we will recognize that nothing else in our lives will fulfill us the way Christ can and will.
Jesus then says God blesses the mournful and comforts them. Once again, the meaning of Jesus’ words is much deeper than the surface-level meaning. Jesus, here, speaks about “lamenting” over the pains and evil in this world and about our own sinfulness. Being mournful is about our hearts breaking over the hurts and pains that exist in our world. Jesus says those who mourn for this world will be blessed, because God will comfort them in their tears.
Followers are called, Jesus says, to be humble or meek. Jesus is calling us to a way of peaceful gentleness that defines who we are. This is about having a humility that reflects the humility of Christ. A humility that does not see ourselves as better than others, but equal to others and in need of God for all things. Those who are meek, Jesus says, will be blessed, because they will experience the fullness of God’s creation.
Jesus ends the first segment of blessings by calling his followers to be hungry and thirsty for righteousness. The righteousness Jesus speaks of is God’s holiness. We are called to completely desire God’s holiness and character. Followers of Jesus allow the Lord’s grace and truth to define us, so that our character might reflect God’s character. When we do, Jesus says, we will be blessed by being satisfied in ways that nothing else ever could.
These four Beatitudes make up the first group that focus entirely on our inner self. Each of these marks redirect us from a life that is focused upon the self and, instead, focused upon the hope, peace, joy, and love of Christ working in us. As we are defined by these first four Beatitudes, we will notice God not only working in us, but also working through us by how our outward actions reflect the life Christ desires for us.
The last four Beatitudes focus, then, on what it means to be followers who live differently in our world. It starts by Jesus saying we are to live differently by being merciful towards others. In a world that can be unforgiving and relentless in attacking others, Jesus calls us to be people who exhibit grace and forgiveness. To afford others the same unconditional grace and forgiveness that was offered to us through faith in Christ. As we are merciful to others, Jesus says, we will be blessed because God will show the Lord’s mercy towards us.
Followers are also called to live differently by having pure hearts. What does this mean? It means having a heart that is undivided in its devotion for the Lord. We live in a culture where our devotion to God can be impacted by many things, such as career, finances, political ideology, and so on. Jesus calls his followers to have an undivided devotion to God that allows the Lord’s desires to inform our relationships and interactions with others. Those with a pure heart are blessed, Jesus says, because we will be able to see God at work in our lives.
Jesus moves on to say that followers live differently, because we are people who seek peace. In a world often plagued by hostility, animosity, distrust, and frustrations, we are called to be people of peace who are led by peace. This is not a peace of this world, but a peace that is defined by the love of Christ. It is a peace that seeks unity, hope, community, and reconciliation for all people. It is a peace that finds nonviolent ways to bring people together and to mend relationships. As followers of Jesus, we are not to be people who add to the world’s animosities, but to be people who show the way to peace. Doing so, Jesus says, will allow us to receive the blessings of God and to be known as the Lord’s children.
Jesus saves the most challenging characteristic for last. He says if you want to be known as his follower, then you must be willing to be persecuted for the right things. Jesus says his followers will experience the same ridicule and frustrations he would experience. We often believe persecution is a sign or weakness or that we are not truly following God, but note what Jesus says. Jesus says if we are living as his followers then we will face difficulties from the world. Why? Because the life of Christ challenges the desires of our world. A life defined by Christ is counter to a life defined by self, money, or the things of this culture. If we are willing to follow Christ and be his followers, then we will face difficult moments and challenges. When we do, we will be blessed, because we will experience God’s kingdom and support.
Each of these eight characteristics call us to live differently by taking on the challenging, radical, and counter-cultural way of life of Christ. Jesus calls us to be followers who live differently, who take on the life the Lord desires for us, and express this life by our words, actions, and deeds. Our faith in Christ and participation in the new covenant calls us to live in ways that do not reflect the desires of the world, but reflects the desires of Christ.
It is our faith in Christ that enables us to live differently. In a moment, we will gather around the table and celebrate communion together. Communion reminds us of our commitment to Christ to live differently. As we share in the bread and juice, we are reminded Jesus shows us the way to live differently by reflecting the depths and amazing nature of God’s love for us and all people. This meal inspires us to live out our calling as followers of Christ everyday and in all ways.
Jesus speaks some challenging words to us, but yet he guides us forward to take these words as our own. As we let go of our lives, and take on the life Christ calls us to, we’ll see that Jesus is right beside us showing us the way, so that we may be people who live differently.
I cannot imagine a better time for a group of people to be known as people who live differently. Our world is in need of a group of people to say we will not live in accordance to the world’s desires, but to live as Christ desires and to show the greater way of hope and love. May we be followers, then, who live differently and are guided by Christ’s presence and guidance everyday.