"Lord, Only You can Change Me" (by Kay Arthur)
Ch. 2: "Where True Happiness Begins"
Review week 1: John the Baptist was chosen by God to "make ready a people prepared for the Lord" and in large part, this very "preparation" was the call to REPENT! The "red carpet" of John's ministry was to declare the "BAD NEWS" of our sin, our deserving God's judgment, and the proclamation that the kingdom of God was at hand. Bookmark chapter for week 1 (intro) was Luke 1 (and connecting back to Malachi ch. 3-4)
Review week 2: The "theme" of the infamous "Sermon on the Mount" - which we discerned from Jesus' own words - is "the righteous lifestyle of those who belong to the kingdom of heaven." (LCM p.6) One of the key verses of this sermon is Matthew 5:20 which says "For I [Jesus] say to you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees [the religious leaders of that time, the most "holy" people who were supposed to know all about God], you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven." But as we saw, Jesus' rebuke against the so-called religious was very severe. Bookmark chapter for week 2 (ch. 1) was Matthew 23, where Jesus soundly rebukes these religious folks for their hypocrisy! They exert all this effort to clean the outside of the cup, but inside they are as filthy and dirty as ever. They are like whitewashed tombs - concerned about their outward appearances, but inside are DEAD and unclean.
So we come to chapter 2, and there were 2 main topics for us to discuss:
1) "BLESSED ARE" / "TRULY HAPPY ARE..."
Jesus opens this sermon with a series of statements concerning those who are considered "blessed" or "happy/ecstatic" - and gives us a glimpse into their condition. Before we got into the first "beatitude" (which comes from the latin word to describe this series of "blessed are's"), we needed to understand better what this actually means.
For one, "blessed are" refers to a "STATE OF BEING," not a set of doings. The sermon to follow is going to be filled to overflowing with all kinds of "do's" and "don'ts" - but Jesus is FIRST, LAST and ALWAYS concerned with the condition of the HEARTS of his people. As we have said before, "Being precedes [comes before] Doing" - what we DO is the overflow of who we ARE. What we DO, is the "natural result" of who we ARE.
Additionally, in the Scriptures, "blessedness means 'a sense of God's approval.'" (LCM p. 21) BLESSED first refers to God's approval, God's favor, God's...pleasure. These statements of character, of the heart, of "being" in the inner person, all fall under the category of "blessed" because they describe the heart and character that is PLEASING to God, and therefore as an overflow of his pleasure, God blesses us and we are filled with joy. We used the picture of a tree to get this idea. It would be as if we could say the ROOT is God's being pleased, and the FRUIT is our joy.
However, if we have not been given a new nature? If we are still in our sin - God's pleasure would be worse than meaningless to us. It would certainly not be our aim, our desire or at all OUR pleasure! (Recall, we talked about God changing our "want to's"?! so that we long to love what he loves and hate what he hates!) But if we desire to please God, and Jesus has told us that these characteristics are at the HEART of what brings pleasure to God, wouldn't it be to our benefit to understand what these things mean? To, in effect, if it were possible, "strive after" this kind of character and heart and inner person?
"Is it any wonder that Jesus' teaching in the Sermon on the Mount so amazed His listeners?....Here was a man who spoke with ringing authority, a man who was God in the flesh. Here was the mighty Creator of all speaking to His created ones, telling them that the wellspring of what they craved was found in a sense of His approval. Yes, friends and loved ones may belittle and ridicule our words and our choices, but what does it matter as long as God continually whispers, 'I know who you are, My child, and it brings Me pleasure.' Man, after all, was made for God's glory, God's pleasure. How then can man be complete or satisfied until he achieves that for which he was created?" (LCM, p. 24)
2) WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE POOR IN SPIRIT?
We looked through several Scriptures during our study, including Luke 18:9-14 where we saw the Tax Gatherer crying out for mercy, Isaiah 6:1-8 where we saw how Isaiah - when he was confronted face to face with God - cried out "WOE IS ME!" as he recognized how sinful he was, and 1 Corinthians 1:26-31 where we saw that God chose for himself people who were (in their natural selves) foolish, weak, base, despised, who were not wise, were not mighty, were not noble. And yet God place them in CHRIST (his beloved Son in whom he was WELL PLEASED!), so that he would become to them (and us) all that they were NOT - Jesus is our wisdom, Jesus is our righteousness, Jesus is our sanctification, Jesus is our redemption - so Jesus is our all in all.
We used the image of a "cup" again to talk about how we come to God - and that if we try to bring him anything, as if we could bring anything acceptable to God?, we are in effect trying to stand on our own righteousness or value or worthiness. But God is most glorified when we come to him with EMPTY cups, seeking to be FILLED by HIM! After all, how could we hope to bring anything MORE pleasing to the Father than Jesus?? So "poverty of spirit" isn't an expression of "how much spirit" do we possess, but in effect "how much righteousness" does our spirit possess - It is not as though we suddenly possess less righteousness when we see ourselves compared to a holy God! It's just that the light of God's presence EXPOSES our poverty - that we have nothing to offer to commend ourselves to him.
The proper response to "seeing God" is to fall on our faces, exclaim "WOE IS ME" and cry out for mercy. That is what Jesus means by poverty of spirit. How do we "strive after" this poverty of spirit? We fill our gaze with God - see as MUCH of him as we can, as Isaiah did, fixing our eyes on Jesus.
Jesus says this is the condition in which we are BLESSED! To these individuals who have despaired of their own self-effort and fall on God for grace and mercy - To these belong the kingdom of heaven.
Take heart! The Lord has promised - the good work he BEGINS in us he WILL be faithful to bring to completion! He does not leave us fallen on our faces, but intervenes on our behalf....
Bookmark chapters for this week are Isaiah 6 and Luke 18.
"What is poverty of spirit? It is an absence of self-assurance, self-reliance, and pride. It is the deepest form of repentance. It is turning from your independence to total dependence on God. It is brokenness. Listen, my friend, as difficult as it might be to receive right now, you ought to open your arms and welcome anything that will break you, that will bend your knees, that will bring you to utter destitution before your God....To walk in poverty of spirit means to abide in the Vine [Jesus!] and to allow the life of the Vine, by God's Spirit, to flow through us so that we might bear fruit. For apart from Him we can do nothing. (John 15:5)...." (LCM, p. 30, p. 42)