People of God: The character and behavior that makes a person just like Jesus Christ.
Rev. Sean Lester
January 31, 2010
Text: Matthew 5:1-12
What makes a person a hero? A year ago, Chesley Sullenberger ditched his airplane into the Hudson River and saved the lives of all 150 of his passengers when both engines were knocked out by a flock of geese. It was the first time that a major airliner was ditched into the water and no lives were lost. When the air traffic control tapes were released, Capt. Sullenburger could be hear calmly describing the condition of his plane and then informing the tower that he was going to be in the Hudson River. Without a hint of panic in his voice, he put the plane down safely in the water. Then, he oversaw the evacuation of the plane. Twice, he went down the center aisle of the aircraft while water seeped in to make sure all of the passengers had exited. Then, last of all, he escaped the plane. Acting to save 150 lives makes him a hero. The way in which he did makes him a role model.
When I read those first twelve verses of the sermon on the mount, I see a person being described who both acts righteously and demonstrates righteousness of character. Jesus mentions nine characteristics of a person who is called blessed. When I boil down what Jesus said in this passage, I conclude that he is saying to us, simply, “heroes are people who are honored because of their righteous character.” What makes blessed people heros?
A. First, I see it as a combination of spiritual condition and righteous acts.
1. Jesus lists four spiritual conditions that lead to righteous behavior.
a) A spirit that is poor. That is a person who cares little for what he can get out of this life and instead invests was he or she has into the kingdom of heaven. Giving into the kingdom as a way of investing in the eternal lives of people is what gives us the kingdom of heaven. I don’t mean to imply that there are things that can earn our way into heaven. In fact, I’m not even talking about going to heaven. Those who demand little for themselves and instead invest into the kingdom of heaven experience the kingdom of heaven in this life and in the next.
b) A spirit that is meek. Meekness is having the power to force others to do the right thing, but allowing them to choose for themselves. It is using means other than force or coercion to bring righteousness about. Every so often, I hear talk of people wanting to get control of the government in order to pass laws to force people to do what is morally right. That is not meekness. Meek people make their best arguments. They warn people of the consequences of immoral behavior. They are involved in ways of delivering people from sinful lifestyles. But, they are unwilling to force people to do the right thing. They inherit the earth because they trusted God enough not to try and take it for themselves.
c) A spirit that hungers and thirsts for righteousness. A young man came to see me because he was dissatisfied in his spiritual walk. Although he had grown up in church, this thirty year old decided to reach out to God for himself. He bought a Bible at a secular book store. He said that he had read the first 200 pages before coming to talk to me. I asked him what he thought faith was after having read that much of the Old Testament. He said that faith is the courage to do the right thing. I told him that I admired the way he acted on his hunger for God. He replied that it seemed that everyone in town was hungry for God. Most, he said, are hungry and decide to live hungry. A few are hungry and find a way to be satisfied. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness see what is wrong in the world, and seek to make it right. Righting a wrong satisfies the hunger.
d) A spirit that is pure of heart. The affections of a person are stored in a person’s heart. If a person longs for only one thing, he or she will pursue only that one thing. All of a person’s energy and resources will go into obtaining it, no matter what it is. But, if a person has more than one object of affection, then the energies and resources will be divided. It’s like a man who wants both a successful business career and the love of his girlfriend. There comes a point when both will demand his time to the exclusion of the other. A man who succeeds by putting in long hours often loses the love of his girlfriend or wife. A man who succeeds in his marriage often limits how high an d how wealthy he can be. The man who pursues only one of them stands to succeed at whichever he chooses. But, the man who wants God, and only to know God puts all of his time and resources into finding Him. That man will see God.
2. At the same time, Jesus mentions three behaviors that mark a person who is blessed.
a. Righteous people mourn. Grief is a condition. Mourning is a behavior. Grief happens to you. Mourning is a response to grief. Mourning is the decision to accept a loss. It is a painful decision, but it is a righteous decision. Life comes with loss. Loss of a loved one. Loss of a career. Loss of health. Loss of a nest egg. What makes mourning a righteous act? Because it declares trust in God. It accepts what has happened as part of this life and chooses to allow God to guide us through it. It allows people to grow and to mature. Those who mourn receive comfort from mourning so that they can move on through life.
b. Righteous people are merciful. Mercy is the kind of thing you can only offer when you have the power to deprive others of something that they deserve to lose. When you have the power to exact the penalty of justice from someone, but choose not to do it because the consequence would not satisfy you, then you have shown mercy. There is an old saying, “ he who lives by the sword also dies by the sword.” That principle comes into play with those who show mercy. People will give unjust people what they deserve and not feel a bit sorry for them. People will not exact vengeance out of someone who is known to be merciful. Merciful people make mistakes. But who is willing to exact justice out of someone who would never do the same to someone else? The goodness that goes around also comes around.
c. Righteous people make peace. Righteous people should be easy to identify in an adversarial society such as ours. Our courts are adversarial. There is always a plaintiff pressing a case against a defendant. A prosecutor pleads a case against a defendant. In our governments, a candidate runs against another. There are debates. There are votes. There are always winners and there are losers. Sports are adversarial. Business is adversarial. Peacemakers don’t live to win while others lose. Peacemakers ask the question, “what is in the best interest of all parties?” They seek to meet the needs of all without excluding any. They care about people in general and no one over another. The only one who has an interest in all people equally in the God who created all people. Therefore, all who seek to love people equally must be sons of God.
Transition: The combination of spiritual character and righteous behavior brings respect from people and honor from God. However, the hero of the faith is one who has this combination but keeps it under pressure.
B. Second, spiritual heroes do the right thing even when there is pressure not to.
a. Righteous character manifests when a decision has to be made that is right by God and the conscience He gives even though others pressure you to make a different choice. The kingdom of God is a kingdom of righteousness. If God’s kingdom is what you want, then decisions have to be made that are righteous. Otherwise, you get a kingdom of man and all the problems that come with it.
C. Finally, Spiritual heroes identify with their hero, Jesus Christ.
a. Three things may happen if you make decisions that identify you as a follower of Christ. You may be insulted, persecuted, and falsely accused of things. That is a price that you may pay for obedience to Jesus Christ. On the other hand, heroes are made only when there is opposition or difficulty to overcome.
b. Identification with Jesus Christ means that even the enemy knows you are like Christ. It is the highest compliment that someone can pay you.
c. Identification with Jesus Christ puts you in the company of the prophets. You become someone God has called to speak to the nation. It is a high honor that comes with the high price that is paid.
My hero is Jesus Christ. My Lord and Savior demonstrated meekness and mercy when he allowed people to falsely accuse him, insult him, and kill him. He preached righteousness and acted on that righteousness when he challenged the religious leaders to put aside their images of religion and take up the mantel of righteousness. There is only one thing Jesus wanted, to fulfill the will of the Father that included having him die, be buried, and rise again to be seated at the right hand of God the Father. He is my hero. If I can be the man described in the passage we have been discussing, then I can be the man of God I aspire to be. And, so can you.