Saturday, February 7, 2015

Pastoral Panoramic Ponderings ~ The Beatitudinal Journey to Joy

          Ever since my journey through the Beatitudes quite some years ago, I often find that other Scriptures I am reading make sense when I factor in this description of God’s blessings.[1] I can always expect to see that some new lessons from Scripture will show how God is leading me to some new experience of the poverty of spirit that continues God’s work of conforming me “to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.”[2]
          As I took another look at the Beatitudes this morning, my mind was set on Jesus words, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”[3] This passage has been adding to my understanding of why we cannot allow any grumbling or disputing in the church.[4] Grumbling and disputing are expressions of the sark, or the flesh, and the sark cannot experience Jesus’ joy. The sark is selfish, and only selfish. It can only think of self-dependent, and self-produced mirages of happiness. It can only think of the worldly pleasures that satisfy the flesh. It is unable to conceive of pleasure that has to do with God because it has no connection to God, and no ability to conceive of God doing a better job of leading us through life.
          With this thought in mind, that living by Jesus’ words will fill us with his joy and bring our joy to the full, it is interesting that the Beatitudes take us on a journey to joy that withstands everything the world throws at us. Let me share with you the brochure to this joy-filled, joy-maturing, journey.
          First, we accept our poverty of spirit,[5] seeing that our sarks have made us bankrupt towards God. We realize that, in spite of the sark’s protests, we have utterly failed to be good people. The poor in spirit see that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.”[6]It is a great gift of grace when the blessing of God breaks a person’s heart, shows us our poverty of spirit, and brings an end to the mirage of the flesh that has lied to us and deceived us about our goodness. There is no goodness in the sark, and it is the blessing of God that brings us to understand and feel this.
          Second, on our way to fullness of joy, we come to mourn the condition of our lives. Instead of the sark facing our poverty and trying to come up with all kinds of good things that we can do to fix what we have done wrong, to do good things to make up for our bad things, the Holy Spirit works on the prideful heart of man and so exposes our poverty that we mourn our condition. We are in a mess. No matter what good the sark has produced in appearances, the mournful heart sees quite a different picture behind the scenes. It cannot look at what it has done, and the mess it has made of our lives, without grieving the sin, and the effects of sin, and the consequences of sin.
          Third, as the poverty of spirit erodes and demolishes our faith in our own sarky goodness, and we feel an unrelenting mournfulness over the mess we have made of our lives, we begin to feel this Spirit directed meekness enter our souls. It is like those times when we have such a time of crying, of sobbing, of weeping, of bawling our hearts out to God, only to end up feeling as if we have no strength left to do anything at all about whatever was breaking our hearts. So it is with the poverty of spirit that causes us to mourn our condition. Once the mourning has done its work, we have no strength left to rely on the sark to lift us out of our sin, or to make up for all our bad decisions, or to fix what we have broken. We are spent. There is a resigned meekness that has no thought of self-reliance, but only a strange wondering when Messiah will come.[7]
          What distinguishes meekness from hopelessness is that the work of God in our lives that takes us through our poverty, to mourn our condition, and meekly accept we are not the ones to fix ourselves, next brings us to a hunger and thirst for righteousness that we have never felt in our sarks. It is not the drive of the sark to be a good person, but the hunger of the poor in spirit to have the experience of righteousness they cannot fabricate in themselves. They see this in God; they see it in Jesus; they hear that it is a gift offered to those who repent and put their faith in Jesus, and they hunger and thirst for this transformation of the soul. As the two blind men heard that Jesus was passing by and felt an incessant longing to have their eye-sight, and so cried out desperately for him to hear them,[8] so the hungering heart cries out for the righteousness it does not have. It wants what it cannot create. It wants what it cannot see. It wants what it hears is out there, walking by, sent from God, given to those who humble themselves before God.
          As God continues to bless people in this way that leads to joy, the fifth thing that happens is that those who experience the mercy of God satisfying them with the righteousness of faith as a free gift of his grace, become the merciful people who show the same mercy to others as they have received from Jesus Christ. No longer do they rely on their sarks to puff them up as better than others. No longer do they allow their sarks to judge others as inferior to themselves. They have already accepted that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.[9]They are no better than anyone else. The righteousness that has satisfied their souls came as the gift of grace, working through faith, with no works of their own added to the picture that would give them reason to boast.[10]
          This meek acceptance of their own condition, along with the satisfaction of righteousness they feel only because they hungered for it, has so transformed them with newness of life that they see everyone around them as in the same mess that they were in before. They now feel mercy towards everyone because of the transforming power of God’s mercy in them.
          The sixth characteristic of God’s life-changing work is that the mercy that transforms the poor in spirit into the merciful, also purifies the heart. Instead of people doing good out of bad motives, or trying to mix self-reliance with devotion to God, the heart becomes pure in its dependence on God for everything. It grows in first love, seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.[11]It desires to keep in step with the Spirit instead of giving any room for the sark.[12]No matter how immature its love, it is the single-minded love of the Spirit working to change a person into the image and likeness of Jesus Christ from one degree of glory to another.[13]
          The seventh stage of this journey of growth in Jesus Christ is that the merciful children of God, whose hearts become pure in seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness, find that they are drawn into a way of life that makes them peacemakers. They have this one thing on their minds, that they now have in their hearts and hands the gospel of Jesus Christ that brings people to have peace with God.[14]They have lost their desire for peacekeeping, a way of life that was produced by reliance on the sark. Instead, they want people to have peace with God, and can’t help speaking of this gospel of peace with a no-matter-what kind of attitude they never felt when they were in their sarks.
          As these pure-hearted people seek to bring everyone into this gospel-centered peace with God, they invariably get in trouble with all the people who are still living in sin, and relying on their sarks to figure out what to do. As God’s word says, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”[15]To present that Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life,” and that no one comes to the Father except through him,[16]is to speak scandal against the world, the flesh, and the devil. To claim that, “there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved,”[17]is to declare every other religion, and philosophy, and worldview, debunked, false, and counterfeit. As James said, it is the wisdom of the world that is, “earthly, unspiritual, demonic.”[18]
          The peacemakers who cannot stop announcing to the sarky, sinful world that Jesus saves, and that he is the one hope of eternal life, get in trouble. The gospel gets the peace-preaching church in lots of trouble. The Prince of Peace got in trouble with the sinful people of his day; the apostles all got in trouble for their exemplary lives of proclaiming the gospel of peace. History is full of the stories of persecution against the church that has told the world that it needs Jesus. Our present day is filled with stories of the world seeking to kill the gospel of peace because it denounces the sinful pride of the human heart.
          The point is that, those who are peacemakers, and who are persecuted because their lives have been so transformed that they must attempt to bring people to have peace with God, are not the downcast, despondent people of the world. Rather, they know Jesus words, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,”[19]and so they rejoice in the blessing they have in Christ while they grieve that their persecutors are lost in sin. They know that, “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account,”[20]and so they rejoice in the blessing that is theirs in their present persecution, while their persecutors are still under the curse of their sin.
          The peacemakers recall Jesus words, “Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”[21]They know that persecution is the lot of the believer in Jesus Christ. They know that the reward of their heavenly joy is so much greater than the loss of anything else in this world that they can now rejoice in what they have in Jesus Christ, even while their persecutors blindly carry out their hopeless work of demolishing the church Jesus is building.[22]
          The point is that, when we enter into the life of the Holy Spirit, the presence of Jesus to the church, we experience the fullness of Jesus’ joy in us, and our joy brought to the full. That does not mean that persecution never feels heavy. It does not mean that people are feeling joy while being tortured. It does not mean that our joy is perfect and rising every moment of our persecution.
          Rather, it means that we know where our joy lies. We long to live in a deeper and deeper experience of knowing God, and resting in his joy. We can delight in our salvation now. We can “rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory,” because we are “obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”[23]
          No matter what we are going through Jesus said that he has spoken to us the words that will fill us with his joy, and bring our joy to the full. And, as he has said completely in his letters in the book of Revelation, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.”[24]

© 2015 Monte Vigh ~ Box 517, Merritt, BC, V1K 1B8 ~
Unless otherwise noted, Scriptures are from the English Standard Version (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.)

[1] Matthew 5:3-12
[2] Romans 8:29
[3] John 15:11
[4] Philippians 2:14
[5] Matthew 5:3
[6] Romans 3:10-12
[7] Jesus talk with the woman at the well brought her to the place that she told him that everything would be made clear to her when Messiah came (John 4:25; see John 4:1-42 for context).
[8] Matthew 20:29-34
[9] Romans 3:23
[10] Ephesians 2:8-9
[11] Matthew 6:33
[12] Galatians 5:25; Romans 13:14
[13] II Corinthians 3:18
[14] Luke 2:14; Romans 5:1-2; Ephesians 6:15
[15] II Timothy 3:12
[16] John 14:6
[17] Acts 4:12
[18] James 3:15
[19] Matthew 5:10
[20] Matthew 5:11
[21] Matthew 5:12
[22] Matthew 16:18
[23] I Peter 1:8-9
[24] Revelation 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22

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