CHRISTIANS ARE DIFFERENT
Dear Christian friends,
It was a crazy week. We had a three inch snowstorm. It caused all kinds of havoc. Yes, I grew up in the North, but I have lived here more than half my life – all my married life. I know I can never be a true southerner but I don’t feel like a northerner either.
People from the North always like to say they know how to drive in the snow and southerners don’t. First of all, if you live in the South, you have had enough sense to move out of the Snowbelt or your parents had enough sense to Never live in it. I think people would be more proud of that. Secondly, no one really ever really learns how to maneuver in the snow. It is always tricky and unpredictable.
Judy and I moved south in 1977. We have been away from it a long time. But from 1990 to 2002 I served on the Board for Home Missions. It required me to be in Milwaukee three weekends a year. One was the last weekend in January. Over those twelve years, I was caught in the middle of a snowstorm more than once. I even had to extend my stay a couple of times. There were a few times when it snowed during our meetings and we had to go back to your motel during rush hour on Friday. Don’t tell me everyone is skilled or even sane in Milwaukee during rush hour. People got stuck and slipped and slid and even deserted cars.
So, Pastor, what does this have to do with your sermon? Why are you ranting and raving? The only difference is between people is whether you choose to live where there are six inches of snow or where you are more likely to have six inches of sunshine. Okay, so it was a bit of a rant and rave.
Today we are going to talk about a difference that really matters. Jesus is speaking to God’s people in the Sermon on the Mount. As Christians, wherever you live, “You Are Different.” 1) What makes us happy; 2) What makes us click.
Alexander the Great, the great Greek ruler conquered the world by the time he was in his early thirties. In 333 BC Jerusalem and Judea were under Greek control. Alexander died. Historians believe that too much alcohol didn’t help. He divided his empire among four of his generals. Ptolemy was given the land of Egypt and Seleucus was given the land of Syria. Judea was in between.
Over time the four kingdoms became kingdoms unto themselves. own. The Seleucid Empire and the Ptolemaic Empire fought for possession of Jerusalem more than once. In 200 BC the Seleucid Empire conquered Jerusalem. A savage ruler by the name of Antiochus pursued a zealous policy of making Jerusalem more like Athens than to remain Jewish. He made possession of the Torah, the books of Moses, a capital offense and burned all the copies he could find. According to history he banned many traditional Jewish religious practices; Jewish sacrifice was forbidden, Sabbaths and feasts were banned. Circumcision was outlawed; mothers who circumcised their baby boys were killed along with their families. Altars to Greek gods were set up and animals prohibited to Jews were sacrificed on them. The idol of Olympian Zeus was placed on the altar of the Temple.
Under the Maccabean family the Jews rebelled and amazingly won. The Seleucid Empire was defeated. While the Jews ruled themselves for a while, in 63 BC Rome conquered Jerusalem under Pompey. So along came the Roman gods and goddess. Jupiter replaced Zeus.
Our WELS pastors learned Greek by translating Greek mythology. While translating it always struck me that whoever cooked up these myths didn’t have very high standards for their gods. They were powerful and immortal but anything but perfect. Zeus, who was the big daddy of their gods, was anything but perfect. Aphrodite, the goddess of love, was seen spreading her love around like a like a farmer sowing seed in the spring time. Greek mythology is filled with gods and goddesses who murdered and committed adultery. If that’s what they thought their gods did whom they worshipped, no wonder Greek and Roman society was no better.
When we think of the good Lord revealed in the Scripture and Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, there are characteristics that make him God. He is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and eternal. He is just and faithful and holy without sin.
What happens today? No one as far as I know believes in Zeus or Jupiter or Aphrodite or Venus. In fact, people like to sweep the thought of God out of the picture. ‘I’ and ‘me’ have become God. I make the rules, and I can do anything I want. What happens? Lawlessness! Congress, the judiciary and the executive branches of government do what please people; unborn babies are killed and people say that is personal choice and right. Sexual behavior has no limits because the sinful human heart can be pretty creative in its vile ways. Mind altering chemicals dulls the sense of right and wrong. The internet is used to please the sinful flesh. Even Christians are left wondering what is right and wrong.
Jesus speaks to us in the Sermon on the Mount about the nature of about his relationship to us and our relationship to him. He reminds us of his holy law and applies it so we see the need for his Gospel. His law, his perfect law, the law which Jesus himself kept for us, shows God has no impurities. He is perfect, not like Zeus or Aphrodite. But his law exposes our evil imperfections by the boat load. That’s foolish. Why defend a lie? But this is also where the Gospel enters the picture. We are forgiven by Christ and Christ alone. But how can we know his forgiveness if we don’t see the need?
That why Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” You will be happy if you admit you are poor in spirit. We have nothing to boast or brag about before God. The poor in spirit consists of everyone. No one is perfect and righteous; no one can say they deserve a reward before God for their holiness. Rather be like the tax collector who hit his chest and said “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Don’t be like the Pharisee who almost dislocated his shoulder trying to pat himself on the back for how good he was. The poor in spirit are all but the problem is not all admit it.
But those who understand that they are poor in spirit are also shown by God himself that his grace is greater than their spiritual poverty. The psalmist cries out, “Lord, do not forsake me; do not be far from me, my God. Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Savior.” “A broken and a contrite heart our God does not despise.” He forgives. One of those passages that has become my favorite is when Paul says, “When I am weak, then I am strong.” What a paradox, but it is true! I am weak but he is strong. He is our strength and righteousness.
The same is said when he says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” These are paradoxes. How can you be happy, the root word for blessed, and mourn at the same time?
Many don’t consider sin to be a big deal. It is too common. Really? Sin was punished by a holy and just God. God cursed Adam and Eve. God cursed the human race. “For dust you are and to dust you will return.” It is a big deal.
But God’s grace is a bigger deal. It is the difference between war and peace between God and man. It makes the difference between worry and hopelessness and a peace that supplies that surpasses all understanding. It makes the difference between heaven and hell. Those who mourn over their sins, those who are meek and know their own spiritual poverty, those who thirst and hunger after the righteousness they can’t supply, have Christ to forgive and the righteousness that is needed for us. That makes us blessed. That’s what makes us happy! I was lost but now I am found, was blind but now I see. That’s what gives us joy.
That love makes us click. It makes us tick. I guess that is slang for “to function well, to hit it off or fall into place.”
Jesus says, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Christians are in the mercy business because our God is in the mercy business. There is no one who ought to understand mercy like one of God’s children. We receive it every day. It is new to us each morning. No need to doubt it. No need to cross our fingers. No need to say, I hope I have the mercy of God. It is an accomplished fact. Calvary is the proof.
But that mercy makes us click. Because God is merciful we want to be merciful. What a different world we would be living in; what different many homes would be; what a different church many churches would be if we practiced mercy like Jesus did.
Jesus goes on, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Jesus is not saying that the followers of Jesus will never sin. He is not saying that we will be moral straight shooters the moment the Spirit works in the heart. We all know too well of the countless things we are ashamed we did in our past and all that we did since we got up this morning. But we also know we are cleansed in the blood of the Lamb, and now we have standards we strive for. They are not our own, they are God’s. They are not standards from which we pick and choose; they are not antiquated. When some say that the commandments are old and worn out, the child of God says, Hawgwash! Honey!
“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.” Jesus emphatically made peace between God and humankind. That also makes us tick. We want our homes to be like that. We want our world to be like that. We want our churches to be like that. That’s our goal. Where God’s peace is, there is more of a likelihood of peace with one another.
“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.” People hate Americans because we are Americans. People sometimes dislike people because they live on the other side of the tracks. People despise people because they have a different color skin or because they have a better paying job or any of a million other reasons. People despise people who love and live for Christ. Martin Luther once said, “Anyone who wants to have Christ must put in jeopardy his body, life, good reputation, and popularity in the world.” How true that is. But don’t be said. Be happy! Your faith is showing! Your love for Jesus is evident. Or should we say God’s love for you is evident because God put that love there.
These are the opening words of the greatest sermon ever recorded. It was spoken by Jesus. But don’t just listen, believe the words Jesus has to say and put it into practice.