I’m a Star Wars fan and lots of other kids are too. I like to ask kids which character in Star Wars is their favorite. Some like the good guys, but quite a few say Dark Vader is their favorite.
Now why would that be? My theory is that people gravitate toward characters like Darth Vader or Darth Maul because those characters are powerful, not to be messed with. They have some traits that we would like to have.
I’d like to ask you adults another question this morning. Not, who is your favorite Star Wars character, but who do you want to be like?
Who do you look at and say, “She’s exactly the person I want to be.” Or, “If I was him, I’d have it made. That’s what I want to be like. “
If we can identify who we really want to be like I think that tells us something about what matters to us. It’s a pretty strait forward theory: the people we admire have the traits that we value.
So, who do you want to be?
Last Sunday we began a sermon series on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. We talked a little about why Jesus preached this sermon. One reason why Jesus preached this sermon was to correct false interpretations of God’s word and show the people what really matters to God.
In the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus reveals what matters to God by describing the traits of a Christian. But these traits are not things that we naturally gravitate toward. These aren’t characteristics that are highly praised my many people. But they are qualities that matter to God.
If you’re following along in your Bible I’m at Matthew 5, verse 1. You can also follow along in the bulletin if you like.
“1Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, 2and he began to teach them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called sons of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3-10 NIV).
The opening words of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount got the people’s attention. These ideas were totally contrary to common thought. The poor in spirit are blessed? The mourners? The meek? Yes, Jesus says. These people are blessed because this is what God’s people are like.
Christians, those who mourn over their sins now, will be comforted by the fact that Jesus died for them and has therefore freed them from the punishment that their sins earned.
Christians, who are meek now, instead of biting and clawing to scratch out a place for themselves in this world, they will inherit the earth in the world to come.
Christians, who know that they are not complete now, they who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled with good things as God teaches them His. And in heaven they will be filled to the top with God’s perfect righteousness. Our sinfulness will be removed by God’s powerful hand when He makes all things new.
Jesus once said,
“36For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?” (Mark 8:36 NKJV).
In this description of a Christian, it’s like Jesus is saying the converse of this statement. He’s saying, “What does it matter if a person misses out on all that the world values, if in the end he keeps his own soul for eternal life?
I want to move on to the next section. We don’t have the time here today to deal with each of these characteristics that Jesus describes. And perhaps these things are better suited for personal meditation.
I encourage you to take some time this week to look over this section again. If you do, try this. Take each statement and write out the opposite.
Instead of “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” you’d write something like, “Cursed are the haughty and self-confident, for theirs is hell”.
Instead of “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” you’d write, “Cursed are those who never feel sorrow over anything, for in the end they will be left to themselves.”
The good qualities that Jesus describes here are things we want to cultivate in ourselves. And the opposites of these characteristics are things we want to weed out of ourselves. Doing a little exercise like writing out the opposite of these statements may help us to see these things that matter to God more accurately.
I’d also challenge you to keep this section of Jesus’ sermon in your mind this week by picking one trait to nurture. Take one thing, maybe the easiest thing that you see there, and live it.
For example, ponder how you might be merciful this week. Think about what you might do to remind yourself to have mercy on others. Maybe write it on the back of your hand. “Mercy”.
And when you’ve done it, share whatever you do with me. I’d like to know what you come up with to actively incorporate Jesus’ teaching into your life. Maybe we can learn from each other in this way.
Now, I want to make sure nobody gets the wrong idea here. Last Sunday we talked about how Jesus isn’t telling us how to get to heaven in this sermon. We sinful people are forgiven because Jesus served our sentence on the cross of Calvary. He never sinned. He willingly suffered and died in our place. Because He took our punishment on Himself and gave us His perfection, we are forgiven and will live with Him forever.
In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus is not describing how we are saved, He is describing how we, the saved, now live our lives.
As followers of Christ, Jesus says, that we are “blessed”. Jesus says that even when we are being framed, lied about and ganged up on, we are blessed. Turn to Matthew 5, verse 11. Jesus says to His disciples:
“11“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:11-12 NIV).
Being “Blessed” by God doesn’t mean that everything will be rosy in life. What it means is everything is going to be right in the end. Sometimes being “blessed” in a broken world is very frustrating.
Christina Gibbs, one of our members here, was once in Minneapolis visiting family when she got a little lost. Being lost is not what most of us would consider a “blessed” thing to be. Her husband wasn’t with the family because of work. So, it was just mom and the kids.
They were on their way to meet up with some family, and they were already behind schedule. To add to the problem, Christina missed the exit she needed to get off on.
We all know what that feels like. Late already, and then something happens to make things worst. But it got even worse. All the exits after that one were industrial exits. Not much help for someone who’s looking for directions. And in the back seat the kids were starting to get restless.
Finally she got turned around and was approaching what she believed was the right exit. But she wanted to make sure. So, she pulled off at a gas station to ask if this was the exit to the I-35 bridge. And when she asked the man behind the counter if this was the right exit to get to the I-35 bridge, he just pointed to the television screen and said, “Don’t you know? It just collapsed.”
The bridge that had stood for decades had just collapsed, killing 13 people and injuring 145.
All the sudden Christina went from feeling very frustrated, to feeling very blessed.
Our place in life may not seem blessed to us sometimes because we lose sight of the bigger picture. Looking at the little scuff on our shoe, we forget that we own a place in the eternal Kingdom of God because of Christ’s love for us.
Being blessed as a follower of Christ in this broken world does not mean silk pillows and bon-bons. It means that we have a great God who is actively guiding our lives. It means that because of Jesus, we have a future that will be so great that we will forget the bad experiences that we have now.
Now when we look at Jesus’ description of a Christian in the Sermon on the Mount, we might think: “I don’t have that. I’m not like that. Does that mean that I’m not a Christian?”
But Jesus knows that we don’t have all these things down yet. He knows where each of us is in our meekness, in our mercy, in our pureness of heart. He knows that we’re not perfect in these things.
If when people became Christians, POOF! they just had all these traits, Jesus wouldn’t have to say this stuff would He? He wouldn’t have to teach us these qualities. He knows where I need to grow, and where you need to grow. What qualities we need to nourish.
As they listened to Him, Jesus’ disciples may have been having troubling thoughts about their failure to do these things too. Jesus sets their hearts at ease by calling them the “salt of the earth” and the “light of the world”.
“Right now”, Jesus tells them, “you are these things”. It’s not, “First be like this, then you’ll be Christians.” It’s, “You trust in me, now be like this.” Jesus gives forgiveness first, then teaches us how to live His way.
Look at Matthew 5, verse 13. Jesus tells His followers,
13“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.
Without refrigerators salt was very important because it was a preservative. Because of this fact, salt was much more valuable then than it is today.
The Roman army would sometimes pay their soldiers with salt. The phrase is still used today, “That guy isn’t worth his salt”. That’s where it comes from. A lazy soldier wasn’t worth the salt that he was paid.
Salt was also a symbol of purity back then. Salt is white. It keeps things from rotting. It’s not hard to see why it symbolized purity. You might not know this, but God commanded that salt be added to all the grain offerings that were presented at the Temple in Jerusalem. Their sacrifices were to be sprinkled with purity.
So what exactly was Jesus saying to his disciples by calling them salt? Perhaps it was something like this: You are the preservative that God sprinkles into the sinful world. You keep it from rotting away in sin. You show the right way to live and you point people to the Messiah.
Perhaps its was something like this: You are valuable to me. You are my hands and feet and mouth on the earth. Only through you will people hear my teachings, my Good News about forgiveness.
Perhaps Jesus was saying: You are my people, eager to do what is good. You are being led into purity and holy living by my words and by the Holy Spirit who helps you to accept and live them.
You are a preservative, your are valuable, your are pure, because of Me.
If you lived near a body of salt water you could make your own salt by leaving out saltwater to dry. When the water evaporates, salt remains. Salt and whatever other minerals were in your saltwater to begin with.
That’s why Jesus could talk about salt losing it’s saltiness. Because their salt had other minerals in it, it could lose it’s saltiness. Perhaps the salt part could be washed away if you didn’t put it away properly. And then you’d just have some white looking minerals that didn’t keep meat from spoiling and didn’t taste particularly good either. Salt-less salt was then tossed out the door. It was next to worthless. About the only good thing it could be used for was making the street a little less muddy.
If Christians lose their character as Christians. Their humility of spirit. Their mourning. Their meekness. Their hunger for righteousness. Their mercy. If they are only “salt” by name, and not because of their character, their usefulness to God and man is next to nothing.
Jesus warns His disciples: “Listen to what I’m saying, hold tight to what I’m teaching, live by it, don’t become salt-less salt, don’t become Christians in name only.”
Jesus also calls His disciples “the light of the world”. Look at Matthew 5:14.
“14“You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. 15Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:14-16 NIV).
I don’t need to explain what this means. Light shines up the darkness and shows the way.
When Jesus described the qualities of a Christian, He described inner qualities and outer ones. I would suggest to you today that these are like the parts of a candle. Inner qualities – the wick. Outer qualities – the wax. The wick and the wax don’t do much illuminating alone. But put them together and they burn brightly in the darkness.
So it is with the inner and outer qualities of a Christian. Together they burn brightly and illuminate the way of Jesus. The path of life that is God’s way.
We started this talk today by asking the question,
“Who do we want to be like?”
We may have all sorts of different answers to that question. But we can all agree on this: we want to be like “The Blessed” that Jesus describes here. We want to be followers of Him in more than just talk.
We want to put Jesus’ teachings to work in our lives, and when we do, we end up becoming more like the Teacher Himself. For He did more than teach these qualities, He lived them too. Perfectly. And in this way we can never be like Jesus. He’s the perfect Savior. We’re the saved. And thank God for this. For when we try to live His teachings, we will succeed, and we will fail. And when we fail, we will look in faith to Christ for forgiveness. We will pray to Him for forgiveness, knowing that His sacrifice on the cross washes our sins away. Knowing that His sacrifice sheds light into our darkness. Knowing His sacrifice has taken us from the kingdom of hell and made us part of the Kingdom of Heaven.
And now, may His Holy Spirit enable us to live as holy citizens of that country, right now, to the glory of God the Father.
The Peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.