The Cost of Living Right
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
The Elephant in the Room
There are all kinds of persecution in this world, all kinds of suffering perpetrated by one human to another.
The news is full of people harassed, hurt, made to suffer and persecuted for all kinds of reasons such as a rage and anger, revenge, jealousy and hatred, or simply out of an evil desire to inflict pain upon another. All over the world people are hurting and being hurt.
At its core, humanity is a savage beast and, given the right circumstances, will inflict pain and suffering upon another.
To be sure, God will deal those who cause such pain and misery at the judgment. No perpetrator will ever go unpunished.
Within the realm of persecution lies a particular type of suffering addressed in this Beatitude; that is suffering because of righteousness and a desire to live for God.
“The beatitude is not simply for all who have suffered persecution. God, as the righteous judge of the earth, will deal with that as well. But this beatitude is for followers of Christ, those who suffer persecution for the sake of righteousness. And as the next verse clarifies to the disciples, that means suffering for Christ’s sake. They have been identified by faith with the King, they carry his name, and they proclaim the good news that there is a kingdom of righteousness and peace that is spiritual and eternal. But they will find opposition.” Alan Ross
I wish I could give you some new insight on the nature of persecution and the ‘whys’ behind it.
I could try to dig out some great truth embedded in the original language of this text, such as the fact that not only is the idea of persecution for righteousness a major theme in the Scriptures with over 75 references, but also that Jesus mentions it three times in this passage making this a significant aspect of living out the Beatitudes.
I could try to impress you by telling you that the meaning of the original word for persecution is ‘dioko’, which translates as chasing and pursuing in the sense of being man-tracked or chased down.
But all of that does not address the elephant in the room and that is why on earth would anyone want to harass, attack or destroy someone as benign as living out these beautiful Beatitudes?
“In this fallen world when people try to promote peace, or champion righteousness, or live a life of gentleness and meekness, they find opposition. One would think that such a life would attract people to the kingdom of God.” Alan Ross
The Endearing Ones
Among the most harmless people on earth are the ‘Beatituders’; they mean no harm, they do no harm; they live quiet and peaceful lives.
The Beatituders show mercy, they seek peace and have a spiritual innocence about them. They have about them an aura of meekness and an awareness of their own spiritual bankruptcy that is endearing.
Nothing about them is arrogant or abrasive.
These are not the eye for eyers or tooth for toothers. These are the other cheekers, the second milers, the cloak givers, and the free lenders:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.” Matthew 5:38-42
These are the world’s great reconcilers:
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23, 24
These are the non-lusters and non-lookers:
“But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27
These are the yesers and the noers, whose yes is yes and no is no:
“All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” Matthew 5:37
These are the enemy lovers and stranger greeters:
“But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…. and if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?” Matthew 5:44, 47
These are the beautiful people…..the white doves…..the spotless lambs….. the endearing ones.
These are the ones who are living out the Beatitudes – who are poor in spirit, who mourn easily, who are meek and merciful, pure of heart and peacemakers and, above all else, hunger and thirst for righteousness.
These are the ones who have torn down their old houses of rot and sin as a result of being broken up over the poverty of the old place, and without resistance, allow the old place to be torn down until nothing is left except the soil on which it stood, all of which is described in the first three Beatitudes.
So they have torn it down; it is an empty lot. They did this in an established neighborhood where everyone else’s house is just as dilapidated and rotted.
Something’s Rotten in the Neighborhood
Here actually might be the problem and the reason for the persecution. You try having a house of righteousness in a neighborhood of rot and sin and see what will happen!
Friends, we live in a world where everyone is lost in sin; where rot and moth are gnawing away at people, who they are and what they have become.
So imagine for a moment tearing down your house in a neighborhood where everyone else’s house is equally rotting away.
“What is she doing? Not good enough to keep standing?” they will ask.
You will get their attention and they will get somewhat alarmed. They will wonder what’s wrong with his house that he had to tear it down, it’s no worse than mine. If she is tearing down hers, does that mean mine isn’t good either?
You know where this can go. Tearing down your old place of rot and sin will cause unease in a neighborhood where everyone’s house is equally dilapidated and rotting away.
And then to be so hungry for a new house of righteousness that you dig down deep into the soil of your heart.
And in the wellspring of life near the bottom of the soil of your heart to dig out the old dirt and contaminants, so as to lay the strong foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ himself as the chief cornerstone, will get the neighborhood’s attention even more!
Soon a crowd will gather, and people will notice, since it’s rare for there to be a new house in the old neighborhood. Anytime you build a new house in an old neighborhood, it’s going to stand out.
Curious. Puzzled. Intrigued. Feeling uneasy. Not liking the change.
Quizzical at first, but soon replaced with alarm and then plain outrage with what is being built. Outraged enough to pick up stones to smash windows and torch the place before it’s finished.
And you wonder what can make people so angry, especially when what’s being built is a beautiful house of righteousness with raw materials of mercy, purity and peace.
What would that make people so mad? Who wouldn’t want a house that mercy, purity and peace built?
In a neighborhood where every one else’s house is rotting from the inside out, to have someone whose house was just as rotten tear down that house and build a new one of righteousness made up of mercy, purity and peace, exposes the rot of everyone else’s.
That’s at the core of the fury. Who does she think she is? What makes him better than me? Even if you invite everyone else to allow the same builder who did this for you to also do it for them, many will be offended.
Your new house exposes the rot of everyone else’s and while some will want what you have and will in fact do the same thing that you did, you need to know that this will always be a mixed neighborhood. There will always be those who will hate the new house at the corner.
That’s at the core of what Jesus meant when he said:
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Mth. 5:10-12
So I ask again - why would they be persecuted, harassed, made fun of and opposed?
Right living is incredibly offensive. Right living makes you stand out in a world of wrong living. Right living exposes the wrong in others and reminds others of their wrongs.
“The lesson would simply be that people should be living for Christ in this world, living the way members of the kingdom should live, championing righteousness and justice, showing mercy, remaining meek and poor in spirit--all the things that the beatitudes praise. But they should know that genuine righteousness is offensive to many, and so they will be prepared for opposition.” Alan Ross
Paul made an incredibly sweeping statement that includes all those who live right, regardless whether they live in North Korea, or Ontario, and that is: “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” 2 Tim. 3:12
There is such a tension between not only the message of the cross but also between the benign ways of the righteous ones and the mindset and lifestyle of the rest, that tension and conflict are inevitable.
“Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.” John 3:20
This Little Light of Mine
So why even bother? Why not fit in? Why not stay put? Or why not move out from there and move into a gated community where your only life is with those who have similarly built houses of righteousness and where there is never any opposition, ridicule or pressure?
Hey, why not a Jesus village?
Why would Jesus imply we stay put, keep building our house and that such opposition is actually a good thing which he “blessed”?
I can think of a number of reasons why, despite being persecuted, such people are actually blessed.
But to see it that way we need a unique perspective on life. If this is only about your comfort and ease, if this is only about accommodating and fitting in, then you won’t get how this is a blessed way to be.
So with an open mind consider the following:
1. In the Company of Great Ones.
If you are persecuted for how you live your life, you will have joined the ranks of those who have done so throughout history and are among those who are suffering such in our days.
Not that we are doing this for that purpose. We are not looking to be martyrs. We don’t have a martyr complex anymore than those who have suffered throughout history or are doing so today.
“Rejoice and be glad…. for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Matthew 5:12
They will notice your house of righteousness, the house that mercy, purity and peace built, just like they noticed the houses of the prophets who came before you. Just like they tore down those homes of righteousness of old, they will try to do the same with yours.
You are not the first, you are not alone.
It may not be as brutal as in days of old, since ours is a more cultured and tempered world, but you will face pressure, ridicule and hostility.
Fear not when that happens. In fact, blessed are you for you are among the ranks of the Great Ones.
In some ways, when it says to build on the foundation of the prophets and apostles, it is as though you have built on the ashes of the Great Ones whose houses have stood in earlier times.
“There were others who were tortured, refusing to be released so that they might gain an even better resurrection. Some faced jeers and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were put to death by stoning; they were sawed in two; they were killed by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated-- the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, living in caves and in holes in the ground.”
Cheer up, your house of righteousness stands among these and in fact stands beside the house of the Great One, Jesus Christ, who suffered greatly at the hands of evildoers even though he was the most beautiful human that ever lived.
It was he who said, “If the head of the house has been called Beelzebub, how much more the members of his household!” Mth. 10:25
You are in the company of the great ones.
2. A Brighter City Just Ahead
That same passage in Hebrews also points to a future inheritance.
“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised, since God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.”
Heb. 11:39, 40
Jesus made a similar reference when he said, “Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven.” Mth. 5:12
Your house of righteousness on earth is a prototype of the real one in heaven, the real life, and the real mansions you will get in the Kingdom of Heaven.
It is as though every time a righteous person dies, the Lord takes that house up into heaven and adds it into his city so that, at the end of time, will be this brilliant, bright and holy city called New Jerusalem lit up by the righteousness of all the saints who live together.
So don’t lose heart for soon your house of righteousness will be a star in God’s heaven. Fix your eyes on what is to come.
Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Cor. 4:16-18
3. Don’t Hide It Under A Bushel
There is one more reason why facing pressure because of your house of righteousness can be a good thing.
Not only because you are in the company of the Great Ones. Not only because of what you built now is a prototype of what you will have there, but also because your house here and now can and will inspire others to do the same.
While it’s true that “Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed”; it is equally true that “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.” John 3:20, 21
Meaning, that for everyone who snickers at you or harasses you, there will be one who will be attracted to your house of righteousness; that mercy, purity and peace built, and they will want it too!
Your presence on earth serves as a magnet for others seeking to leave their own places of rot and sin.
If you were not in your neighborhood, whose house of righteousness would serve as a witness and a light? By neighborhood I mean your school, your place of work, literally your neighborhood, your family, the places where you hang.
You are the light of the world. While darkness may want to snuff you out, many in the darkness will be drawn to your light.
“You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.” Mth. 5:14-16
Every additional day on earth means one more testimony to someone else.
While it is tempting to pull all our lights into Christian ghettos and to want to build a Jesus Village, be encouraged not to put it under a bowl; but to keep your bright house of righteousness on a stand so that it gives light to everyone in the house!
The House That Peace Built
“Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called sons of God.”
I love the idea of the house that peace built. That almost sounds like something straight out of the 60’s; something that hippies and flower children would do. The house that peace built; a place with peace as one of its raw materials.
What would that look like? A lot of beatniks hanging back? A lot of love and peace being shared? Never an angry word or a harsh deed done? A place with the inviting aroma of borscht and fresh zwieback wafting through the air?
What does a house that peace built look like? That’s what we will look at today.
Mercy, Purity and Peace
Of course, it isn’t just peace but also mercy and purity
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Mth. 5:7, 8
This new house of ours is built with mercy, purity and peace.
Of the three, peace is the one I have puzzled most over. If you could use only three descriptors of essential Christianity, would peace make it into the final list? It is important, don’t get me wrong, but is it essential?
The first two I totally get. Of course it’s mercy and of course it’s purity but if you had only three raw materials to choose from and two had to be mercy and purity, what would you make the third one?
I get mercy as being the first and most natural response in the world to those who have been shown mercy.
Everything about even being allowed to rebuild screams mercy. We should never have been allowed to rebuild. We allowed our old house to fall into such disrepair that we should have been barred from ever building again.
And even as we are building our new house we are far from perfect. Were it not for the corrective support of the Holy Spirit, who is our inspector and superintendent, we would quickly veer off track and maybe even go back to the rubble and rot of the old place.
So I get mercy and totally understand how instinctively I will show mercy to anyone who comes my way.
I also get purity as being an absolute building block, since everything about God screams out purity.
If anyone is holy, it’s Him, right? So yes, my heart as the ‘wellspring of my life’, where the seat of my intellect, emotion, volition and spirit is located, better reflects the purity of God.
And so, yes, purity makes it into the final list of three, hands down.
That then leaves the question of the last raw material. Consider the contenders for that last spot.
It could have been one of the big three stars of I Cor. 13, namely faith, love or hope, especially love which is the greatest of these.
It could have been one of Paul’s fruit of the Holy Spirit, which includes such heavy hitters as joy, goodness, gentleness and self-control.
It could also have come from the list of Plato’s seven heavenly virtues of chastity, temperance, charity, diligence, forgiveness, kindness, and humility.
And The Winner Is?
So given all these very impressive contenders for the final spot why would peace be the one?
Part of the answer is seen in what peace is linked to in the Beatitude: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God.”
Wow, what a claim! Not that achieving peace makes you a son of God, but that becoming a son of God most naturally and easily results in peace.
Peace is the evidence that you are a child of God. If the foundation that you are building on is “the foundation of the apostles and prophets with Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone”, especially with Jesus as the chief corner stone and Prince of Peace, then peace will be the outcome.
Considering whom Jesus is and what he came to accomplish, it only makes sense that peace would be the final building material to be used in building your new house.
So mercy, purity and peace are the indicators that this is the house of righteousness and that you belong to the family of God!
If we don't obtain mercy, we receive judgment. If we don't see God, we are not in heaven. If we aren't called the sons of God, we are outside the family. In other words these are all descriptions of final salvation. And it is promised only to the merciful, the pure in heart, and the peacemakers.
The God of Peace
That it would be peace that made the final three makes perfect sense when you consider that everything about God exudes peace.
Peace is the key characteristic of our heavenly Father and it would only make sense that his sons would have their father’s eyes or their father’s heart, in this case.
“What Jesus is saying in Matthew 5:9 is that people who have become sons of God have the character of their heavenly Father. And we know from Scripture that their heavenly Father is a "God of peace" (Romans 16:20; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; Hebrews 13:20). We know that heaven is a world of peace (Luke 19:38). And most important of all, we know that God is a peacemaker!” John Piper
God’s work on the cross screams peace and reconciliation. There is no better definition of peace than the cross.
Our personal sin, resulting in our sense of loss, death and decay, was the deepest possible offence to God (we could not have insulted God more if we tried than by indulging in our sinful life the way we did).
And what does He do, but turns around, forgives us, restores what we lost and offers it to a humanity of whom many still turn Him down.
He makes a peace offering to us.
“God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them.” II Cor. 5:19
Consider the cost of the peace offering:
“For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Jesus, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” Col. 1:19, 20
“Making peace through his blood.” Wait a minute, let’s back this train up a little. Who offended whom and whose blood did you say was shed?
We offended him, right? Deeply offended Him with our sin and yet not only does He make the first move toward us, but takes away our sin the only way possible and that is blood for blood, life for life, death for death.
Talk about consumed by peace. Who would go to such lengths to reach out to one’s own enemies? If we all did that there would be no wars!
“God is a peace-loving God, and a peacemaking God. The whole history of redemption, climaxing in the death and resurrection of Jesus, is God's strategy to bring about a just and lasting peace between rebel man and himself, and then between man and man. Therefore, God's children are that way, too. They have the character of their Father. What he loves they love. What he pursues they pursue. You can know his children by whether they are willing to make sacrifices for peace the way God did.” John Piper
Since God is a peacemaker then we will be peacemakers as well. It is the evidence that we have in fact become sons of God.
Sons of God by their very definition are those who are as radicalized about peacemaking as God was, continues to be and will forever be.
So let us be makers of peace.
We are talking about radicalized peacemaking. Not something casual, convenient or at low cost to us. Instead, it’s peacemaking that extends even to your enemies and to those who oppose you.
43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Mth. 5:43-48
That, my friends, is radicalized peacemaking.
Notice some concrete steps in radicalized peacemaking. Not only loving your enemies and praying for those who actually persecute you, but to also build bridges toward them.
This only makes sense with the Spirit of Christ in your bones and the foundation of righteousness that you have laid and are now called to build the house that peace built.
The old house would have loved friends and greeted only your own people. The new house, the house that peace built, actually loves everyone including enemies and warmly greets and welcomes everyone; friend, stranger and enemy alike!
The old house would have invited only friends and family over to the table while leaving the stranger and enemy outside; the new house serves borscht and zwieback to all.
And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Mth. 5:47
“In other words, if there is a rupture in one of your relationships, or if there is someone who opposes you, don't nurse that grudge. Don't feed the animosity by ignoring and avoiding that person. That is the natural thing to do—just cross the street so that you don't have to greet them. But that is not the impulse of the Spirit of a peacemaking God, who sacrificed his Son to reconcile us to himself and to each other.
Peacemaking tries to build bridges to people. It does not want the animosity to remain. It wants reconciliation. It wants harmony. And so it tries to show what may be the only courtesy the enemy will tolerate, namely, a greeting. The peacemaker looks the enemy right in the eye and says, "Good morning, John." And he says it with a longing for peace in his heart, not with a phony gloss of politeness to cover his anger.” Piper
That is radicalized peacemaking.
Peace in Our Time
Key to this is understanding the ‘far as it depends on you’ aspect of peacemaking. Will peace be possible in our times? No guarantee!
Even though we take the initiatives of prayer, loving and reaching out, this does not guarantee we will always succeed.
Peacemaking is not the same as peace achieving. Even though we long for peace and work toward it, there is no guarantee it will come. In fact, there are even times when achieving so-called peace was the result of selling out to the devil.
That’s why it says: “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Rom. 12:18
The point is to make sure that you have exhausted all means and that you have gone the second mile.
“Don't let the rupture in the relationship be your fault.” Piper
There is a further aspect to this idea of peace in our time. It was actually Chamberlain who coined the phrase “peace in our time” upon his return from the Munich Accord with Hitler in 1938 that determined the fate of Czechoslovakia in exchange for peace.
“ My good friends, for the second time in our history, a British Prime Minister has returned from Germany bringing peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.” Chamberlain
The speech is remembered for its great irony of how less than a year later all of Europe was plunged into WW II.
You don’t make a deal with the devil. Radical peacemaking is not peace at any cost nor do you sacrifice truth and righteousness on its altar.
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Rom. 12:18
And Paul should know. There will be times when peace will not be possible as was the case among the Corinthians.
“I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it. 19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.” I Cor.11:18-19
Some things cannot be compromised on. There are absolute truths that remain as absolute truths regardless of the situation and thus sides will be created. That’s why it says ‘peacemakers’ and not peace lovers.
This is not peace at all costs nor peace always in our times, but peace as far as it depends upon you, and that does not compromise the truth.
“In other words, you must love peace and work for peace. You must pray for your enemies, and do good to them, and greet them, and long for the barriers between you to be overcome. But you must never abandon your allegiance to Him and His word, no matter how much animosity it brings down on your head.” Piper
The Truly Weighty Matter Today!
You would think with all this talk of Chamberlain that there is a public or even political aspect to peace, and that this would be the arena in which peacemaking is to happen.
Especially with the direction this world is going, should we not stand up to the likes of Mr. Putin or Kim Yong of North Korea, and should peace making not be in the public arena?
While we should be concerned about bringing peace into every sphere of life, and should be committed to peace in the public arena, it is neither the place where peace begins nor the way that peace breaks out.
While it is commendable that peace envoys seek to bring opposing parties to the table be it in Syria, Ukraine or Korea, the truth of the matter is that peace begins in the hearts of men and women.
Remember what I said last week about the role of the heart? It is the wellspring of life, the place where all life begins, and if you can make its waters sweet you will make everything sweet!
That’s why Jesus never took a political stand and that’s why if He commented on political matters it was only for the purpose of driving home the point that these matters must be settled in the heart of individuals instead of the boardrooms of the powerful.
They had their Hitler’s and Kim Yong’s in Jesus times as well.
Jesus knew that Archelaus slaughtered 3000 Jews at the Passover; he was aware that Pilate’s soldiers bludgeoned those who protested over the temple treasury theft and He knew that Jews were massacred on the temple ground and their blood mixed their sacrifices.
Yet Jesus always personalized issues of upheaval and terror. He never became political but was always personal.
In Luke 13 when he was told of one of Pilate’s atrocities, his comment was to personalize it:
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered thus? I tell you, No; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish." Luke 13:2
He takes major social outrage of injustice in his day and turns it into a demand for personal repentance; something he does again and again.
It isn’t only because the eternal destiny of a soul is far more important than even the destiny of a nation but also because if you can bring peace into the heart of a human being, deep down at the bottom of their heart where the wellspring of life begins, you will eventually see rivers of peace cascading forth into every aspect of life.
“Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit.” Mth. 12:33
It’s no coincidence that one of the fruits of the new life is peace. Make a heart good and its fruit will bear peace. Bring peace between man and God and its fruit will be peace!
I love how Piper links what he calls the truly weighty matter of peace in our time to peace in our hearts:
“Every individual must become a new creature if you are to have eternal life. You must have a new heart. Without a merciful, pure, peacemaking heart you cannot be called a son of God. And that is the truly weighty matter in the world today.”
Peace with God?
So have you made peace with God? The only thing that matters is that the storms in your heart have been stilled and that the old enmity between you and God has been removed.
The God of peace has built a bridge named Jesus Christ toward you. If you have let Jesus into your life you will be at peace with God, at peace with yourself and at peace with your neighbor
“Blessed are you peacemakers who pray for your enemies and greet your opponents with love and sacrifice like your heavenly Father for the reconciliation of people to God and to each other, for you will be called sons of God and inherit eternal life in the kingdom of your Father.”
Getting The Insight World Right
by Pastor Jurgen Rausch
You know we’re building, don’t you? Each of us is building our lives, our own personal house. Some of you just starting out while others have been at it for a while.
It’s amazing what can rise out of nothing. Give someone a plot of land and look at what can be built. Thankfully the old house, the old life with the old rot is gone. It is dismantled piece by piece, replaced with the beginning of a new house, a new way of living, a different type of person.
So you have laid the deep “foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” (Eph 2:20); and now you are carefully building a house of righteousness.
As you build your house of righteousness, pay close attention to having purity of heart.
“Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” Mth. 5:8
This is one of the key raw materials used in your house. Just like most every house built uses aspects of wood, steel and stone, so also our spiritual house rising up out of our soil uses peace, mercy and purity.
The shape and size matters less than the building materials used. Some of us will build large, extravagant spiritual houses, while others of us not so much. No two spiritual houses will look and be the same.
How your life unfolds and what you do in life looks different than what I am doing. So many factors come into play.
But all of us have the same raw material; aspects of wood, stone or steel which in our spiritual house translates to mercy, purity and peace.
This morning we are looking specifically at purity.
So what is purity? We know purity from our life, don’t we? Purity is valued. Purity is something unadulterated, uncontaminated and is not defiled by mixing in other substances; it is known as the best of the best with the highest possible grade.
So we talk about refined sugar, purebred animals, the quality of the gold or silver, purity of water free of any toxins etc.
Purity is the best of the best.
A good dictionary defines purity as “conforming absolutely to a standard of quality”. Nothing is mixed in and nothing is compromising its high quality.
So to be pure in heart means a heart that is a cut above the rest; a heart that is perfect, impeccable, flawless, untainted and spotless in every way.
In some ways the pure in heart is the gold standard of the Christian life. It is the perfect cut of a diamond, the most natural cup of water, the 24 K pure gold nugget.
The Heart Defined
It is no coincidence that it is your heart that is to have that kind of purity.
Why the heart? Because of what the heart is to you. Do you realize that the heart is so much more than the organ that pumps your blood?
When God talks about the heart – which He does often – he seldom if ever refers to your physical organ.
Of the 955 times “heart” is mentioned in the Bible, only twice does it refer to your physical heart.
To mention something 955 times means it is singular in its importance, above all else. As far as mankind is concerned, the heart trumps everything.
To God the heart of man is in essence the sum total of one’s existence. Charles Ryrie defines it as “the essence of the many facets of man’s personality.”
Many facets – do you realize how many facets there are to your life?
You are a far more complicated being than the one-celled amoeba. There are lots and lots of facets to your life, and all of it is contained within your heart – your feelings, attitudes, thoughts, decisions, history, desires, dreams, reasoning, intentions; everything.
In fact, the Bible suggests four main aspects of your life that are within your heart:
Firstly, the heart is linked to the intellect. Paul makes this correlation in Romans 1:21 when he wrote, “their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.”
Everything that is connected with your intellect runs through your heart (thoughts, words we formulate, reasoning, knowledge & understanding).
Both good and bad thinking comes from your heart; every time you think a thought you think it from your heart. Your mind is filtered by your heart.
Secondly, the heart is the seat of your emotions. Notice how Paul links the two when he wrote “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart,” in Rom. 9:12. Both sorrow and anguish are emotions, and both come from the heart.
That’s why the Bible says that your heart can love, your heart can rejoice, your heart can be bitter or even angry. Both positive and negative emotions come from your heart. Every time you feel, you feel it with your heart.
Thirdly, the heart is the center of your volition, the place where you make your choices and decisions; which is what we saw Pharaoh do when he chose not to listen to Moses: “Pharaoh’s heart became hard; he would not listen to Moses and Aaron.” Ex 7:22
Pharaoh was determined and insistent, he had his mind made up; and all of that happened in his heart. Every time a choice is made, every time you reach a decision, every time you say yes or no it comes from your heart; both good and bad decisions, right choices and wrong ones.
Fourthly, the heart is the center of your spiritual life. Paul correctly states that all things relating to faith arise in your heart: “It is with your heart that you believe.” Rom. 10:10
Your worship comes from your heart; you pray from your heart, you love God from your heart; you keep God’s Word in your heart!
The Wellspring of Life
The sense that you get is that the heart plays an incredible role in our lives. Clearly, the heart is to our inner being what our physical heart is to our body. The essence of your life stems from it and flows through it, including all things that have to do with intellect, will, emotions and spirituality.
Which is why the Scriptures calls the heart “the wellspring of life.” (Prov. 4:23), meaning the place where the waters of life, the essence of who we are, come from!
Jesus talks about how the heart is a thermometer for your entire life, and how everything you do comes from what is inside your heart.
Your heart shapes your thinking, character, thoughts, feelings, words and eventually even actions. Your heart gives away what you are really like.
33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. 34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. 35 A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.” Mth. 12:22-35
Jesus says our heart must be pure if we ever hope to see God. It must be like 24-karat gold, the purest gold possible.
No contaminants; flawless, untainted and spotless in every way.
How on earth will we ever achieve that? How can we have a 24k heart?
The answer lies in understanding purity. The original meaning of the word “pure” is actually very beautiful. We do have an English word that comes from the original Greek word and which can be very insightful, which is the word ‘catharsis’.
“Pure translates katharos, a form of the word from which we get catharsis. The basic meaning is to make pure by cleansing from dirt, filth, and contamination.” John MacArthur
Purifying your heart is like a catharsis, an emptying, a release and a cleansing where you come to a point where all the toxins are washed out of you (almost like a detox).
It is in fact an inner detox where the gung and filth of sin that hangs around is washed out by the blood of Jesus, which cleanses us from all our sins.
But this washing does not go from the outside in, but from the inside out.
The key to this is the idea of the inner purity, the catharsis that starts at the core of your being and cascades outward to wash away impurity after impurity in attitudes, thoughts, words and deeds.
If you can see your inner being as having multiple layers, much like an onion; where if you can have a cleansing at the core of your being, then soon your entire being will become clean and pure.
The deeper to your core this cleansing can go - the more of the flaws, mistakes, limitations and ‘verklemmungen’ of the old life, the old house of rot can be washed away - the more profound the purity.
Whatever you do, don’t be like the Pharisees of Jesus day, who instead of allowing a deep cleansing at the core of their hearts, settled for modified behavior or surface change only. They were like cheap Asian knock offs, fake imitations of the real thing.
You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence…. First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. …You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Mth. 23:25-28
Not a fake imitation, a cheap knock off that may look and smell like purity of heart from the surface only, but underneath is full of dead man’s bones and everything unclean. Don’t settle for that.
The key to this is what Jesus says: “First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”
So how does this happen? This catharsis is not self-induced but something that Jesus does for us and then does with us.
What can take away my impurity, defilement and contamination? What can cleanse my heart from all my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
1. What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus; What can make me whole again? Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
2. For my cleansing this I see—Nothing but the blood of Jesus! For my pardon this my plea-- Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
3. Nothing can my sin erase Nothing but the blood of Jesus! Naught of works, ’tis all of grace—Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
4. This is all my hope and peace—Nothing but the blood of Jesus! This is all my righteousness—Nothing but the blood of Jesus!
Chorus: Oh! precious is the flow, That makes me white as snow; No other fount I know, Nothing but the blood of Jesus.
The writings of John show us how our cleansing and purity of heart can happen. John makes it clear that because Jesus loves us so, he offers to purify our hearts by his blood:
“Jesus who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father.” Rev.1:5
So Jesus can make this possible! According to John, here’s what we need to do:
Firstly, come to him and confess your sins: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. “ I John 1:9
Secondly, walk in the purity of his light every single moment of the day:
“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.”
Both of these are huge and while one happens in the moment (we are forgiven and cleansed in the moment), the other is a life long quest of being refined, renewed and conformed to the gold standard of God’s purity.
I wish I had the time to unwrap this further, but I need to get to one more thing, and that is this idea that the pure in heart will see God.
The Pure Will See God
What an incredibly claim this Beatitude makes: “for they will see God”!
Scripture makes clear the connection between purity or holiness and “seeing” the Lord.
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place? The one who has clean hands and a pure heart.” Psalm 24:3-4
Of course, this refers to a future sense when the day and the hour will come when the righteousness, the holy and the pure, will see God.
The closing words of the Bible picture a world where God dwells with His people and they will be with Him, and He with them day and night.
22 I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. 23 The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. 24 The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendor into it. 25 On no day will its gates ever be shut, for there will be no night there. 26 The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it. 27 Nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Rev. 21:22-27
So let no one ever take away from the fact that seeing God is ultimately connected to being in his presence forever. That is what the pure in spirit will experience. That is our zenith.
However, there is another sense of seeing God and that is in the here and now.
There are actually two ways that God will be seen in the here and now by the pure in heart.
1. God who has left his fingerprints everywhere in nature and in history, which will be most easily noticed by the pure in heart.
God has left his fingerprints everywhere. His shadow is everywhere. He has left his DNA all over creation even though most don’t recognize him.
“Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made.” Romans 1:20
It’s in Romans 1 where Paul decries the unwillingness of the impure to see God’s fingerprint in creation.
“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Romans 1:21
Contrast that to David’s observations. He looked at the same creation as those in Romans 1, and yet with startling different observations:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” Psalm 19:1-4
There is a sense that God can be seen in the here and now, in addition to the there and then. God’s fingerprints are all over creation and the pure in heart notice them most readily and give glory to God for them.
2. God will reveal Himself in a special way to the pure in heart.
Not only will they see his DNA as they look around, but God chooses to reveal himself beyond natural revelation to those who have eyes for Him.
Evidence is plentiful of people to whom God has revealed Himself in an extraordinary sort of way. How many times did God physically make Himself known to someone or to a people?
A pillar of fire by night, a cloud of glory during the day, a burning bush, a walk in the cool of the day, a visit by three visitors, a fourth person in the oven, a parting of the sea, a still small voice, a storm stilled, a door opened or closed, a dream, vision or prophecy.
All these were special revelations of God only for the pure in heart!
Caring Enough to Care
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”
When you build a house, not only is the foundation important but so is building according to code.
Could you imagine building a house only to have it fall apart or not even become livable? What a waste of investment that would be, and how frustrating for the owner and the builder.
That’s why there are inspectors who will come to make sure that everything is done according to code – the wiring, the plumbing and framing, etc.
Tearing Down, Building New
It’s the same with our spiritual house. By now you know that we are looking at the Beatitudes through the unique lens of tearing down the old house so as to make room for a new one on the same spot.
No doubt this particular lens is a little unique. In my readings on the Beatitudes I have not come across the lens of a building torn down and a building raised up as a way to explain the Beatitudes. Most authors tend to state each one as stand alone personal characteristics instead of stringing them together.
Dr. Martin Lloyd Jones’ book, The Studies of the Beatitudes, is the only book I have read that sees the Beatitudes as having cause and effect.
In Jones’ mind the first three were the great self-emptying and the next four the great infilling. That’s how I have always seen these Beatitudes.
In my mind’s eye I have always seen these as the great tearing down, followed by the great building up.
That our old house, that old life, that old self; that crooked old house that was barely standing up under its own weight needed to come down.
Using the Beatitudes as our lens, the focus for the last couple of weeks has been on mourning over the spiritual rot of the old place, and the meekness that it takes to see it dismantled piece by piece until nothing is left except the soil on which it stood.
In that soil – in the soil of our heart - is where we hunger and thirst for a new thing to emerge, a new structure – a house of righteousness - that we are called upon to build using the building materials of mercy, purity and peacemaking.
Any builder will tell you that structures rise and fall because of the foundation. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for his reign and rule is like yearning for a rock solid foundation; a foundation of righteousness and of being in a right relationship with God.
That’s the only foundation to have, that which Paul calls “the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” Eph. 2:20
Meaning that the apostles and prophets brought us the Word of God, brought us the Gospel, the Good News that Jesus saves, almost like workers who bring and assemble forms into which concrete is poured.
They framed it and poured in the rock solid concrete that is Jesus Christ.
In fact, not only is his righteousness a rock solid foundation upon which your house is to be built on, but also Christ himself is the chief cornerstone!
So we build on the foundation!
God’s Building Materials
It is amazing how quickly a house can be built. I find it absolutely fascinating how workers can transform piles of wood, brick and steel into a brand new house, and how quickly it seems to go up with shapes and sizes all varied and different.
Paul, in I Cor. 6, likens us to dwellings in which God’s Spirit dwells.
“Your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price.” I Cor. 6:19, 20
Just like the homes we live in are all different, so are the dwelling places of the Holy Spirit. If my life is a dwelling in which the Spirit of God lives, as is your life, then no two dwellings look the same since none of us are identical.
That’s the beauty of God’s handiwork. We are all such different individuals. No two houses will look the same.
Your structure, your life will be different from mine depending on temperament, opportunity, upbringing, inherited character traits etc.
Yet no matter how different we are, we all share the same key ingredients. All of us in whom God’s Spirit dwells share similar key essentials, just like most conventional houses that are built share aspects of steel, wood and stone in them.
Paul talks about using either gold, silver, costly stones or wood, hay or straw as possible building materials:
“If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work.” I Cor. 3:12, 13
It’s obvious that if you are going to use wood, hay or straw to build your house that it’s not going to survive the test of time and eternity. Not as it would if you used gold, silver and costly stones.
It’s like saying let’s use paper, mud and bark to build a house – you could build something, I suppose, but it won’t last for 200 years.
So here is what I am suggesting. The gold, silver and costly stones of I Cor. 3 is the mercy, purity and peacemaking of Mth. 6; and that all dwellings of God in which His Spirit lives need to have mercy, purity and peacemaking as their essential building materials.
First Generation Mercy
So how are you doing with mercy, this morning? Are you building in plenty of mercy? Is it one of the prominent raw materials of your life?
When others look at you, do they instinctively see someone who is merciful? That’s the question!
To answer that, you need to know what mercy is. Mercy is no better understood than when experienced first hand.
If you ever have received mercy, then you will be among the most merciful who will walk the earth. It isn’t taught as much as caught!
Mercy doesn’t need huge definitions or great theological exegesis. We know it instinctively as feelings of great compassion toward others that propels us toward deeds of mercy.
It’s the modern social phenomenon of random acts of kindness multiplied a million times over.
You’ve heard of random acts of kindness whereby strangers provide usually anonymous acts of kindness to complete strangers? Like the guy who walked into a Starbucks and paid for all the drinks that day, or the person in the car ahead at a Tim Horton line up paying for the coffee of the person behind them without knowing who they are. These are random acts of kindness.
The idea, of course, is that it would spark a social movement whereby random acts of kindnesses would break out everywhere making this world a little nicer.
While kindness is one thing, mercy is quite another thing. Both are perhaps in the same family, but mercy is kindness on steroids; mercy kicks it up a notch.
If kindness is lifting a finger, then mercy is giving someone your entire hand!
The highest form of mercy is the mercy you and I received from God, which is where mercy begins.
While there may be mercy between people without a hint of God’s mercy, what we may be witnessing is likely the great grandchild act of mercy that was triggered by an original act of God’s mercy somewhere in the past.
Mercy has a way of cascading like a wave. You may be receiving a wave of mercy from someone that is the result of a great surge of God’s mercy many waves back in someone’s life; mercy that is just rippling through the generations.
At the end of the day, the greatest act of mercy was what God did for you. It arose in his heart to be merciful. It is in his nature to be so, and every response he makes is one of mercy.
“Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.” Psalm 136:1
And the recipients of God’s mercy tend to be the most merciful.
Yet the ripple effect of mercy doesn’t usually last very long nor go very far. Not because His mercy isn’t great, but because of the human condition that tends to soak up mercy like a sponge with little passed on to the next person.
If you show your children mercy because God has shown you mercy, there is a good chance that they will pass on some of that mercy to others but not in the same way that you experienced God’s mercy.
That’s not a bad thing. It points to the fact that everyone needs to be a first generation recipient of God’s mercy.
I tell you this: If you have been deluged by God’s mercy your whole life will be a life of mercy! Those of us on the receiving end of God’s mercy as he rescued us from our old life can’t help but be instinctively merciful to others.
“One thing that is common to the poor in spirit, the meek, and those who hunger for righteousness is that their life is not self sufficient but looks outward for help. They understand mercy for they know their own inadequacies, dependence, weaknesses and incompleteness. And, when they receive gracious and merciful bounty from the King, they in turn know to show mercy to others.” Alan Ross
That God would look at our old house of rot build on a crooked foundation of self, pride and ego and say to us:
“Come now, let us settle the matter,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.” Isaiah 1:18
Who were we that we would receive such great mercy? Our house was a house of rot. Nothing good dwelled in us. I don’t need to remind you of what Paul said in Ephesians:
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath.” Eph 2:1-3
This is what we were. This was the kind of rot in our bones. No wonder our house was torn down.
You would think that with the kind of house we had, and the kind of soil it sat in, that we would be banned from ever building something there again; that it would be our version of the infamous Love Canal.
Love Canal became the subject of international attention after it was revealed that the site had formerly been used to bury 21,000 tons of toxic waste by Hooker Chemical. On this very place, over 900 homes were allowed to be built, all of which had to be abandoned.
To this day, Love Canal remains as an empty parcel of land and a warning of what contaminated soil can do.
Not only was our house a house of rot, but our soil was deeply contaminated, which is why what happened next is so incredibly astonishing.
“But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.” Eph. 2:4-5
He not only cleansed the soil of our heart but also laid in us a strong foundation for something new, when neither should have been our lot.
Which explains why the first thing to rise out of our soil, the very first instinctive thing, is that we show the same mercy shown to us!
That is first generation mercy; where you are absolutely merciful to anyone in need because you yourself have first hand experienced God’s great mercy.
Mercy to All
And it doesn’t matter whether it’s friend, stranger or foe; someone you know, someone you don’t know, or even your enemy. If you have received a deluge of God’s mercy, you can’t help but be merciful.
That leads me the Parable of the Good Samaritan, in closing.
All we see in the Good Samaritan is the one side. We know nothing, but can assume everything, about the deluge of divine mercy this man must have received to do what he did to the stranger in need.
This is first generation mercy at work, friends! For him to instinctively reach out to help the one in need at great inconvenience, cost and risk implies what isn’t stated, namely that he himself had been the recipient of divine mercy.
That is the only way that he would show that kind of mercy.
“People who know more of God’s mercy will be merciful. It is important, then, that people have a good understanding of the grace of God in their own lives. This will come from the experience of confession of sin and thanksgiving for forgiveness--two aspects of the believers walk that often get neglected. Christians some times get to the point of thinking that they deserved the grace they have received, and they become then intolerant of others, even judgmental. The reality of our own spiritual condition and God’s provision must never be forgotten.” Alan Ross
Build Your House of Mercy!
As you build your house, as you live your life, not only must the foundation be deep and solid; but the raw material you are using, no matter the shape of your house, no matter how you finish it, must include mercy!
If you have been shown mercy, you will be merciful!
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