How would someone describe you? What characteristics or qualities would they list from knowing you or observing your life? Each of us has identity markers, or expressions of who we are and how we are known. In his most well-known talk, Jesus gave a series of attributes that are identity markers of living in the Kingdom of God, markers of living the good life.
This Sunday we continue our in-depth teachings of the Sermon on the Mount.
- I will seek satisfaction in God rather than in things of this life.
- I will show mercy to others as I have been shown mercy by God.
- I will ask God to create in me a clean heart.
- I will work for peace in my relationship with others.
We’ve started a journey through the sermon on the mount to discover or re-discover what Jesus was saying to the crowd that had gathered and to us.
You read in the beginning chapters of the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus begins talking about the Kingdom of heaven, where his power presence and reign are now available, if you repent, if you believe, trust, risk your life, abandon your life, base your life in this kingdom.
That’s the good news of the Gospel.
Jesus begins to explain this kingdom in Matthew 5 with eight statements, each beginning with the word blessed.
We discovered last week it’s a word that addresses a question that haunts the human race — Who has the good life?
Those, Jesus says, who are blessed, because now, through him, the possibility of life in the love, guidance, and strength of God has come.
The blessed have the “good life.”
So today, we’re going to continue looking at these statements, commonly called the Beatitudes.
I want to start by asking you, how do you identify yourself?
Is it your gender, race or ethnicity, social status, nationality, or religious affiliation?
Maybe it’s your age, physical or cognitive abilities, your political ideologies.
These combine to form “identity markers” or expressions of who you are and how others know you.
If someone were to ask you, “Tell me about Scott,” your answer is based on who you know me to be, what you know of my character, or at the very least, what you’ve observed or have heard.
When you introduce yourself, you probably feel obliged to say more than just your name, so you typically add a few identity markers; I work in the office next door, I’m your son’s teacher, I attend Blue Oaks also.
All identity markers.
These statements Jesus makes, the Beatitudes, are identity markers of a Christ-centered life.
They are the lifeblood, the beating heart of authentic, living Christianity.
They speak to our INTERNAL character that determines our EXTERNAL actions.
We’ll be in Matthew 5:6-9, so if you have a Bible, physical or digital, and want to join me there, that’d be awesome.
If not, no worries, we’ll have it on the screen.
Last week Matt spoke of the first three markers; the poor in spirit, those who mourn, and the meek.
Today we’ll pick up at verse 6.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matthew 5:6-9)
Jesus begins with, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…” (Matthew 5:6)
Raise your hand if you understand what it is like to be hungry or thirsty.
As you may know, Betty White, one of the Golden Girls of Hollywood recently passed away, and of all the things she’s known for, you know what I immediately think of?
The 2010 snickers commercial she starred in.
It was the launch of Snicker’s “You’re not you when you’re hungry” ad campaign.
We all know what it’s like to be hungry, get irritable, and not be at our best.
Of the spiritual disciplines or practices like prayer, Scripture reading, solitude, and so on, the one I fail at historically and consistently is fasting.
And I know why … I get hungry!
I rationalize that I need my macros to maximize my exercise.
I’m serious! How lame is that?!
Maybe you know all too well what it’s like to experience hunger due to a lack of food, to not know when or where your next meal will be.
Hunger and thirst are motivators.
Think of this in the biological sense.
You hunger for food and thirst for water because both are essential for life.
But once you satisfy either, they come back, again, and again, and again!
I eat, and I’m hungry a few hours later; I get thirsty throughout my day.
Now, carry this into your spiritual life.
You hunger and thirst for things that are vital to your sense of purpose and meaning.
You may not even recognize the desire as spiritual, but it is.
So, what are you feeding off?
Maybe its status, success, education, possessions, wealth, maybe hurt.
Hunger and thirst are the desires that drive us into addictions, affairs, lapses of our integrity or morality, self-gratification, and the list goes on and on.
Because your soul is hungry and your heart is thirsty.
You feel this insatiable longing for something, but everything you achieve or attain or experience doesn’t ultimately satisfy.
Author and Apologist C.S. Lewis said, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Or, as Jesus has begun to say another Kingdom.
The identity marker of the kingdom is a hunger and thirst for righteousness.
So we have to ask, what is righteousness?
Its most simplistic definition is “doing right in the eyes of God and right behavior within community.”
It’s about right relationships—with God and the people around you.
And when you dig into this word in the Bible, you find three aspects: legal, moral, and social righteousness.
Legal righteousness is our justification by God.
Big word, a beautiful word, and here’s what that means.
Each of us has sinned.
Everyone in human history, except for Jesus, has sinned.
If you were to be put on trial before God, you would be found guilty of satisfying your hunger apart from him.
To be justified is to be declared innocent, righteous, not because of something you’ve done, but because of something done for you.
It’s through faith in the person and work of Jesus that God declares you forgiven and now righteous, or in right standing with him.
The Apostle Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5, “God made him (Jesus) who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Moral righteousness is right living.
Around Blue Oaks, you hear us referring to this as Christ-centered living.
This is not rule-keeping or superficial spirituality but an inner-driven desire that flows from God’s Spirit within you.
It’s what keeps you faithful to your spouse, ethical in your business, patient with those around you, empathetic for the hurting, willing to sacrifice self for the good of another.
The Greek word for “righteousness” primarily describes one’s conduct in a relationship.
It’s right living before God and others.
The Apostle Paul says in Romans 6, “…offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.”
Now, Social righteousness enters into the picture also.
In his book “Justice: Rights and Wrongs,” Nicholas Wolterstorff argues that there’s something fairly universal to the human experience.
He writes, “Lower classes are not only disproportionately vulnerable to injustice but are disproportionately actual victims of injustice. In human history, injustice is not equally distributed.”
Throughout history, you see this as one nation conquers another, as one people group holds power over another.
There were no safety nets in the Roman Empire for the poor and vulnerable.
This is why the early church was so effective in the first few centuries.
It created ways to care for the vulnerable that didn’t exist before, and it began out of a hunger and thirst for righteousness.
And it continues,
Martin Luther King, whom we celebrate this weekend, famously said, “We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like rivers and righteousness like a never-ending stream.”
He spoke of social justice in 1960’s America, but he was also echoing biblical principles that God’s people living in his kingdom treat fellow human beings made in His image with love, kindness, dignity, and respect.
And look at the result of a diet of righteousness.
Jesus says, “…they will be filled.”
The word filled means “saturated,” complete satisfaction of your innermost spiritual hunger and thirst.
There are a lot of promises made of “satisfaction guaranteed,” but none as sure as this.
Next, Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful…” (Matthew 5:7)
When he spoke these words, the Roman Empire was in control, and they did not value mercy.
One Roman philosopher stated that mercy was a disease of the soul.
When a child was born in the Roman world, the father had the right of patria potestas, meaning “power of a father.”
If he wanted his newborn child to live, he held his thumb up.
But if he wanted the child to die, he turned his thumb down, and the child would be immediately drowned.
The Romans were merciless and ruthless, especially toward conquered nations and people.
They were all about strength and domination.
Jesus says those living the kingdom life care more about mercy.
Mercy can be defined as holding back a deserved punishment or the release of a person from debt.
Jesus tells a parable in Matthew 18 that illustrates this.
A servant is set free from a huge, unpayable debt, an amount of money equivalent to around 20 years’ wages.
The debt is canceled simply because the master “took pity on him,” felt sorry for him, had compassion, and showed him mercy.
But then the parable takes a dark turn.
The servant who has been given mercy demands repayment of a small debt from a fellow servant.
He shows no mercy, throwing the servant indebted to him in prison until he can pay it off.
The master, hearing this, revokes the mercy he had shown and has the servant jailed until he can pay back the 20 years of wages!
Can you release the debt that someone owes you?
*lost years of your life
*the loss of dreams that you had
Can you forgive when someone sins against you?
*not hold grudges, get revenge or payback somehow?
Can you show mercy to yourself in the face of regret, guilt, self-doubt, or self-hate over things you’ve done or decisions you’ve made?
Can you show mercy as you have been shown mercy?
You see, the people that mercy flows out of are the very people who have experienced it.
Those who know what it feels like when mercy comes in its healing power, in the freedom it brings, the release from the weight of debt carried.
Jesus extended mercy to the woman caught in adultery.
He extended mercy to the Samaritan woman who was married and divorced five times and living with a sixth man.
He showed mercy to Zacchaeus, a tax collector who took advantage of his own people.
And as he hung, dying on the cross, he extended mercy to the criminal next to him.
You have been shown such incredible mercy by God, who has set you free from the debt of sin that you could never pay.
Can you show mercy to those around you?
Jesus says when this is an identity marker in your life, you “…will be shown mercy.”
One commentator on this passage beautifully calls this the benigna talio of the kingdom of God, the “gracious requital.”
It’s a gift that keeps on giving.
You’ve been GIVEN mercy, so you EXTEND mercy so that you will RECEIVE mercy.
Jesus continues, “Blessed are the pure in heart…” (Matthew 5:8)
Under Jewish religious law, purity is all about following specific laws or rules to keep yourself “clean.”
Avoiding contact with “unclean” people or “unclean” food or things.
But Jesus doesn’t say that you’re blessed or living the good life for following purity rules, but rather for being “pure in heart.”
Later in Matthew, he tells the crowd that to look lustfully at someone is to commit adultery in your heart.
You may not have committed a murder, but Jesus says to be angry in your heart toward another makes you guilty just the same.
I’m guilty of both; I’ll admit to you, I’ve been guilty of both.
There are certain things I won’t, can’t watch or social media accounts I won’t follow because my heart has gone there.
There has been anger I’ve felt inside that took my heart to the furthest place from love toward people.
In Matthew 15, Jesus says, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what defile a person…”
Because your heart reveals who you are, in the secrecy of your thoughts and feelings and motives, where nobody knows.
But God does, and he’s more concerned with your inside life than simply cleaning up your outside appearance.
You’re going to stumble and fall, that’s a given.
And that heart of yours is going to, at times, have some ugly, awful stuff in it.
But the pure in heart are developing the “say no to self” muscles.
It’s asking God, as David did in the Psalm 51, to “create in me a clean heart.”
The key is to make space for the Holy Spirit to work in you, transforming your heart.
And that transformation is evidenced, as Paul says in Galatians 5, with the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Identity markers of kingdom life.
You “…will see God.”
His presence and power and love within you and living through you.
Lastly, for today, Jesus says, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” (Matthew 5:9)
To understand what a peacemaker is, we first have to understand peace because everyone assigns a different meaning to the word.
For you, peace could be a carefree life, with no worries, no stressors, no anxieties.
Or peace is when you avoid conflict, “sweep things under the rug” rather than challenge hurtful words, actions, or patterns.
But peace isn’t avoidance.
It’s not changing the subject the moment something controversial comes up.
It’s not preferring to “go with the flow” rather than stand up to a friend making inappropriate comments.
Maybe peace is a foreign concept to you because you’re ready to go to war with anyone, anywhere, at any time!
Disagree with you?
Don’t believe as you do?
Don’t do what you want?
In his book, The Peacemaker, Ken Sande describes two opposite ends of the spectrum when dealing with conflict.
He says there is “peace-faking,” or avoiding, and “peace-breaking,” or erupting.
Which side would you say you lean toward?
Do you tend to be more of a peace-faker or peace-breaker?
The peace of a peacemaker is more than simply the absence of conflict.
Peace, or shalom in Hebrew, is concerned with relationship, expressing a desire that another person will have all the righteousness and goodness God can give.
The most profound meaning of the term is ‘God’s highest good to you.’
In essence, a peacemaker says I want peace FOR you and will work to establish it WITH you.
I want God’s highest good for you.
When was the last time you ignored a problem or a conflict so you could “keep the peace” outwardly, but still had a raging war on the inside?
Peacemakers approach and move into conflict with the courage to confront, disagree, and work thru issues to achieve real peace.
Is it easy?
Making peace with your children may include defining boundaries between right and wrong.
Making peace with co-workers could mean opening your mind to the possibility that someone else’s ideas make sense or maybe better than yours.
It means not responding in a hurtful way to the offensive words said to you.
It means taking a step toward forgiveness and away from anger.
It’s giving up the right to be right or the need to be right.
Making peace with your spouse can be the most difficult, often requiring a lot of listening, mutual confession, and rebuilding of love that’s been damaged.
Jesus often called the religious leaders that surrounded him hypocrites, actors, fakes.
Why would he do this if He wanted peace?
Because he knew that real peace can’t happen without honesty.
Peace is found in honest, loving, compassionate truthfulness.
Kingdom people make peace their aim—hard-won, committed to the other, centered on God, ready for the wear and tear that each day brings.
And as you do, you “…will be called children of God.”
If you’re a parent, isn’t it interesting how your kids reflect aspects or attributes of your personality and mannerisms?
Kids will reflect the characteristics of their parents, good and bad.
When my son was young, I was getting on him for something he had done, and he was giving me this look.
The more he did it, the angrier I became.
I even threw out the, “Don’t you dare look at me like that!” only to realize he was reflecting what he saw in my face.
When you ACT in peace, PURSUE peace, and LIVE in peace with others, you are reflecting the character of your Heavenly Father.
So, are these four identity markers evident in and throughout your life?
Ask yourself these four questions over the next week:
Are you filling yourself with things of this life, or satisfying your hunger with righteous living?
Can you show mercy as you’ve been shown mercy by God?
What’s the condition of your heart based on your words and actions?
Are you a peace-faker, a peace-breaker, or a peacemaker?
If you’re thinking, “I’ve got some work to do,” welcome to Blue Oaks!
You’re in good company.
If you’re thinking, “I am killing it at following Jesus,” you’ve got some work to do.
Welcome to Blue Oaks, you’re in good company.
Next week we’ll look at the one last statement Jesus makes about living the good life in the Kingdom of God when he says, “Blessed are the persecuted.”
How’s that for a teaser.
Blue Oaks Church