Two weeks before the Christmas of 1995, the sky turned red in Lowell, Massachusetts. A devastating fire was consuming the Malden Mills textile factory. By morning, all that remained was ashes. Continue reading
The heroes of our time rarely accomplished the great things they are known for easily. Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King Jr., Mother Theresa; these were people who faced abounding adversity, yet remained resolute. Those who confess Christ and seek to demonstrate to the world the life he calls us to will not find convenience and coziness in this world.
The Beatitudes are one of the best-known portions of Scripture (Matthew 5:1-12). They predicate the characteristics of the blessed person. However, there is a rhetorical irony contained within them. The type of people mentioned are not those you might expect to be blessed. “Blessed are the poor in spirit… Blessed are those who mourn… Blessed are the humble… Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… Blessed are the merciful… Blessed are the pure in heart… Blessed are the peacemakers… Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness… Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of [Christ].” Jesus takes what is so often valued in the world and turns it upside down. And he promises these upside-down people the Kingdom of Heaven.
Let’s look at just one of these beatitudes. “Blessed are the merciful.” After apartheidism ended in South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was formed. It provided an opportunity for those who committed gross human right violations during the apartheid era to give testimony and request amnesty. There is a story of a frail black South African woman who sat-in on one of these trials. Former police officer Mr. van de Broek confessed that he with other officers shot the woman’s fourteen-year-old son dead at point-blank range. Then, eight years later, they seizing her husband and burned him at the stake. The commission asked the woman what she wanted for Mr. van de Broek. She said she wanted three things: 1. She wanted him to take her to the place they burned her husband, so that she could gather the ashes and give him a proper burial. 2. She said that Mr. van de Broek took her whole family and she still had lots of love to give. Twice a month she wanted him to join her in the ghetto, so that she could be a mother to him. 3. She wanted him to know that God had forgiven him, and that she forgave him too.
The blessed life is rarely the easy life. Which predications in the beatitudes do you resonate with? Which ones challenge you?
“Let me get this straight,” her sister told her, “this preacher told you that a person like you could do all the foolish, immoral things you have done all your life, and five minutes before you die, you can just repent and trust Jesus and be saved just like that? He told you that you don’t have to live a really good life to go to heaven? That’s offensive. It’s too simple; it’s too easy. I’ll never believe that! And you shouldn’t either.” The woman being spoken to was a single mother, with a string of broken relationships with men. Earlier that week, a pastor and deacon from the church next-door came to visit her. The pastor, whose name was Timothy Keller, told her about the freedom offered to all in Jesus Christ; she responded with joy and trusted Christ.
The gospel can seem offensive, even to Christians. We are prone to wander from it, because it opposes the operating principles of this world that say, “You need to earn it!” The Apostle Paul pleaded with the Galatian Christians to return to the true gospel. He reminded them of their previous way of life. They used to worship the “principles of this world (Galatians 4:3)” – likely a reference to the basic elements that were thought to make up the material world. The Greek mind believed that spiritual beings worked behind these principles to control people’s lives. To gain favor with them, people would make offerings to various gods and goddesses. Although the Galatian Christians looked very different then they had then, they were regressing to a similar state of spiritual immaturity. By adopting Jewish laws and customs to gain favor with God, they were simply replacing pagan rituals with Jewish ones. (Galatians 4:8-11)
We are prone to do the same. We can turn religion into forms of self-salvation. When the defense of a doctrine is elevated above the One the doctrine points to, we disparage Christ’s sacrifice. When we seek to appease God by attending special worship services – such as Christmas and Easter – we mock Christ’s sacrifice. Though it can be good, religiosity can morph into a form of self-salvation. Any addition to the gospel is actually a subtraction from it. Any addition says to Christ, “Your sacrifice was not enough; I need to add to it.”
Forms of Self-salvation will constantly rear their head in our spiritual walk. The remedy is to refocus on God’s provision in Christ, for nowhere else is salvation found.
For further reading: