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, saying:
"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
"Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
"Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
"Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
"Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." (ESV)
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No Better Will
Thursday of Pentecost 5
2 July 2015
Martin Luther says that a theologian of the cross calls a thing what it is. In many cases, he must say that what the world calls good is wicked and what the world calls evil is good. I was aghast when I saw a large local Baptist emporium advertising a preaching series about being happy. I wondered if we could make everyone happy, would such happy people go to heaven? Was Jesus happy when they arrested Him in the Garden of Gethsemane? When the Roman soldiers drove spikes through His hands on Calvary's hill? When they hoisted the crossbar on the upright with a thump jarring the beaten body of the victim with waves of pain? When the leaders of His people stood below His cross hurling curses and mockery at Him? When He breathed His last breath and with it cried out in triumph? Happy is not the word that immediately jumps into my mind when considering the execution scene at Calvary. Yet this decidedly unhappy occurrence was the divine will from eternity and deliberately carried out in time by God's own precious Son. God neither asked what would make Him or His creatures happy, but did what was necessary for our salvation in Christ. Christ came into the world for just this purpose. This was the culmination of His mission to save the world.
This runs counter to the world's wisdom that says when things are going well for us, our business is making lots of money, we are driving a new car, and have a large well-appointed home, that God must be blessing us, and that this must reflect God's good will for our lives. We equate our happiness with God's good will. Unfortunately, we could be happy all the way to hell. We sometimes look with envy upon those who live in large homes in tony neighborhoods, who drive new BMWs, and appear not to have a care in the world. Yet, in my experience as a parish pastor, such "happy" circumstances can easily become gilded prisons; where the focus is on the things of this world, and not upon the things of God's good will, which give community with God through faith in Christ, God's own beloved Son; forgiveness of sins, and the assurance of eternal life with Jesus. Such people are bereft of true divine blessedness. We should not envy mere happiness.
What has God called good and truly blessed? Poverty in spirit, grief, meekness, hunger for God's righteousness, mercifulness, purity of heart, and peace are the true gifts of God to the blessed. Ultimately, Jesus attributes blessedness to those who are reviled and persecuted for His sake: "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account" (Mt 5:10-11). None of this blessedness is calculated to reward us with happiness. It takes divinely given strength to look upon this cross centered list of true blessedness and accept it as God's will for your life. Only God the Spirit can breathe into you the faith that seeks not mere happiness, but God's blessing. This is His good, acceptable, and perfect will. There is none better!
"'Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect' (Rm 12:2). Who is ignorant of what is good and the will of God? Those who are inundated with the things of this world, who consider wealth an enviable thing, who ridicule poverty, who seek after power, who gape at outward glory, who think themselves great men when they build large houses, buy costly mausoleums, keep herds of slaves, and bring a swarm of eunuchs with them. These do not know what is good for them, or what the will of God is. For they are the same thing. For God wills what is good for us, and what is good for us God wills. What then are the things that God wills? To live in poverty, in humility, in contempt of earthly glory; in self discipline, not in self-indulgence; in tribulation, not in ease; in sorrow, not in dissipation and laughter; and in all the other things upon which He has given us laws. But most people do not just think that these things are not good or the will of God, but they even think that they are omens of evil.
This then is why they never can come near even to the labors for virtue's sake. For those who do not know so much even as what virtue might be, but reverence vice in its place, and take to their bed a prostitute instead of a modest wife, how are they be able to be free from slavery to the present world? Therefore, we ought above all to have a correct estimate of things, and even if we do not follow after virtue, or praise virtue, and even if we do not avoid vice, we ought to condemn vice, that at least to this minimal extent we might have our judgments uncorrupted. For so as we advance on our road, we might be able to lay hold on the realities. This then is why Paul also bids you to be renewed, 'that you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect' (Rm 12:2).
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 20
Dear Lord Jesus, You were truly blessed one, seeking not your own will and will of Your Father and our blessedness. Save those who have become slaves to the pursuit of happiness to the exclusion of true blessedness in our Father's good will, that they would be rescued by the divine preaching of the law and called back to the holy gospel, in which He gives every good and perfect gift; through the same Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
For those who suffer poverty of teaching from pastors who fail to proclaim the cross, that the Lord would send them preachers of the Crucified One
For President Matthew Harrison of the LCMS, that the Lord Jesus Christ continue to settle him in true blessedness
For Walter Friend, that the Lord Jesus would give him strength in his convalescence
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015