BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
— Jesus

Peacemakers are those that God has first made peace with. Paul describes the peace God made for us in Colossians 1:19-22,
 
"For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him."
 
God made peace with us in Jesus Christ. On the cross Jesus took away our sin so that God could be at peace with us. Now that we have peace with God we are to seek to make peace with other people. This means a number of things:
 
First, we put an end to conflict by refusing to postpone apologies or restitution.

Second, we refuse to seek revenge.
    
Third, we humbly serve one another even those that have offended us.

Fourth, we stop promoting ourselves.

Fifth, we stop insisting on our rights.

Sixth, we stop grasping for recognition.
 
Of course, not everyone will cooperate with our attempts at peacemaking. There will be people that refuse to listen to us, that refuse to accept our apologies, that refuse to allow us to serve them, etc. We are not responsible for the way in which people respond to our peacemaking. We need to understand this because we will be rejected from time to time in our efforts. We may become discouraged because they did not respond to us. However, God only asks us to do our part in peacemaking. It is not our responsibility how others react to this. Paul puts this truth clearly in Romans 12:16-18,
 
"Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight.  Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all."    
 
One of the barriers to living peaceably with all is our own thought processes and emotions. We often fail to control our interpretations of others and our own emotions. This can lead to conflict between others. Daniel Doriani puts it nicely. I will quote him at leangth,
 
"Peacemaking also has internal, subjective aspects. Insecurities and worries destroy peace. Discontentment disrupts peace. Envy disrupts peace. When we try to read other people’s thoughts, it disrupts peace. The pastor of a healthy, small-town church recently learned that lesson afresh. The church and the pastor loved and admired each other, but there was some resistance when he lengthen the morning worship by fifteen minutes. No one got upset, he said, but then he began the story of one man:

Church used to end at 10:30; now it goes to 10:45. One man sits near the back, each week, he stands up at precisely 10:30, straightens his jacket and pants, and walks out. He never said anything, but I could feel his displeasure over the longer services. Indeed, sometimes I had to labor to stifle my anger at the weekly display. Then one week, I changed the order of worship and put the sermon first. The man still left at 10:30, but later that day his wife called me.
 
“Pastor,” she said, “you can’t imagine how happy my husband was today. You see, he has to report to work at 10:45 on Sundays. He waits until the last possible minute each week, but it grieves him that he can never stay until the end of your message. Today he heard your whole sermon and he is so pleased. I just had to tell you.”
 
Guessing other people’s motives is a prime way to subvert our peace, especially since, by some perverse impulse, we tend to make the most negative, self-damaging guesses.
 
If we are going to reflect the peacemaking character of God, we must learn to control our inner life. We must have a charitable interpretation of others actions. We do not always know all the facts. Like the pastor in this example, this can cause us to become upset and offended. It can lead us to mistreat others and to disrupt peace. As Kingdom members, we are to be peacemakers and peacemaking begins in your heart. We need to be mindful that we do not always have the facts. We need to be mindful that we should interpret things charitably. If we do not, we will cause conflict and fail to manifest a peacemaking quality.

BLESSED ARE THE PURE IN HEART

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.

In the Bible, the heart refers to the inner life of man. It refers to the will, the emotions, the intellect and our moral character. Jesus’ says that members of the kingdom are pure in heart.
 
Jesus emphasized purity of heart because the religious community of his time satisfied themselves with mere external and perceived holiness. Look at Matthew 23:23-28.

23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! 25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. 27 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

The Pharisees were more concerned about looking good to others than actually being good people. They lived their lives seeking the praise of men and not the praise of God. Jesus was very tender and merciful to those that realize their sin and don’t try to excuse it. He was gracious and forgiving to those that admitted their need of forgiveness and wanted to change. However, to the self-righteous, to those that made a phony, external show of righteousness, he denounced them.   
 
To be ‘pure in heart’ means to have inner moral integrity. It is a sincere, authentic disposition that moves the disciple to pursue righteousness and compels him to live obediently. Our actions spring from our heart. If we are pure in heart, then we will seek to live obediently to God. However, purity of heart is not a qualification for salvation. Instead it is a result of salvation. In other words, like the other beatitudes, we do not merit heaven by first obeying this beatitude. Rather, we reflect this beatitude, because we have already been secured in heaven.
 
We do not conjure up purity on our own. God does this work in us. Notice what David says in Psalm 51:7, “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” God is the one that does this. Again in verse 10, “create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Again, God is the one that does this. He does it by first enabling us to believe the Gospel. In order to believe, we must first have received new life from God. God also does this by giving us the Holy Spirit. It is the work of the Spirit to clean out our hearts. In fact, Jesus is already saying that we do have pure hearts.
 
This is significant because what he is saying is that the New Covenant was being fulfilled in his ministry. This New Covenant promised forgiveness of sins and inner transformation. Look at Ezekiel 36:25-27,

25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.    

God is the one that does all of this. This means that if we are to have purity of heart, we must trust God to do it. He does it through the preaching of the Gospel and through the sacraments. A pure heart manifests itself in genuine obedience to God from the inside out!
 
Jesus says that those who are pure in heart “shall see God.” This is the future reward for those with pure hearts. It is the promise of heaven. The purity God works in us will one day be perfected. This happens when we die. At death, God immediately purges us from all sin and brings us home to heaven.

BLESSED ARE THE MERCIFUL

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.

We know immediately when someone belongs to a particular family. Each family member shares certain physical qualities in common. It could be their hair color, or their height or their facial structure. There are a number of things that family members share. This is why we have a concept of ‘family resemblance.’

An outsider can readily identify that we are part of a certain family by seeing the qualities that we share. For example, if you met my family, you would readily see that I am a Preciado. I share various physical qualities with my family. You could look at those qualities and easily see that I belong to that family.

Now, I do not earn or merit entrance into the Preciado family because I share these qualities with them. In other words, the family resemblance does not gain me a spot in the family. Instead, it is because I belong to that family that I have the family resemblance. It is because I am securely a member of the family that I manifest these qualities. I think that we all readily understand this idea when it comes to family resemblances.
 
The same thing is true when it comes to membership in the Kingdom of God. This beatitude is sometimes misunderstood to be teaching that we earn God’s mercy by acting mercifully. This is not what Jesus is saying. Instead, he is saying that members of God’s kingdom manifest the quality of showing mercy. This quality does not get us into the Kingdom of God, but we possess this quality because we already are in the Kingdom of God. Showing mercy is the natural result of having faith in Jesus.

Christians will, in fact must, demonstrate mercifulness in their lives. We will never demonstrate perfection in this, but we will demonstrate some level of mercy. If we are without mercy, then we do not belong to the Kingdom. Jesus is not saying that if we do not have perfect mercy and perfect forgiveness, we are not in the Kingdom. No, he knows very well that believers have a sinful nature and we struggle to forgive and to be merciful.
 
What exactly is mercy? There are five things to consider:

  1. First, mercy is not simply feeling compassion.
     

  2. Second, mercy exists when something is done to alleviate distress.
     

  3. Third, mercy is active goodwill.
     

  4. Fourth, mercy describes one who forgives and pardons another who is in the wrong.
     

  5. Fifth, the merciful person remembers his own sin and God’s mercy to him. He understands the weakness of others and forgives.

BLESSED ARE THE MOURNERS

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
— Matthew 5:4

Saturday night live has a regular skit called Debbie Downer. Debbie Downer is the kind of person that ruins a good time because she brings a negative perspective to everything. If you are excited about eating a delicious steak, she will tell you about mad cow disease. If you are excited about going on a roller coaster, she will warn you that people can die from them. She walks around with a perpetual sad look on her face as though she has been mourning all day long. This is definitely not what Jesus means when he says “blessed are those who mourn.”

He is not saying that Christians are sad people. He is not saying that we should walk around making other people sad by being negative. He is not saying that Christians are crybabies or complainers. Instead, mourning has a specific context here. It is the previous beatitude in verse 3 “the poor in spirit.” The one who mourns, mourns over his spiritual condition. He realizes that he does not have a perfect righteousness before God. He realizes that he fails to keep God’s law. He realizes that God requires perfection. This fact grieves his heart. He doesn’t go around being a Debbie Downer, but he mourns over his sin.
 
Jesus pronounces a blessing on the one that mourns over his spiritual condition. The result of the blessing is, “For they shall be comforted.” In this beatitude, Jesus is alluding to Isaiah 61:1-3.

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me, because the LORD has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the LORD’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified.
— Isaiah 61:1-3

In Luke 4:18-21, Jesus applies this passage to himself and says that he is fulfilling it in his ministry. In other words, the work of Christ is what comforts the mourning of the spiritually poor. His life, death and resurrection are the only source of comfort for sinners.
 
When we mourn over our sins, we don’t necessarily cry. We take them seriously. We don’t try to rationalize them away. We don’t try to minimize their severity. Instead we take responsibility for them and confess them to God. No excuses are made.
 
Jesus is quick to comfort those that mourn over their sin. This is the result mentioned in this beatitude. “For they shall be comforted.” Only the Gospel can bring this comfort. It proclaims the forgiveness of sins because Christ died for us. It proclaims the gift of a perfect righteousness because Christ earned it for us.

THE POOR IN SPIRIT

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
— Matthew 5:3

The first beatitude pronounces that God is favorable to the “poor in spirit.” To be poor in spirit means to recognize our spiritual poverty before God. It is to embrace consciously the truth of Romans 3:10-19.

as it is written:

“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.”
“Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
“Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.”
“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

There is nothing we have or can do that will merit favor with God. Nothing at all. To recognize this is to be poor in spirit. Every member of the kingdom of God has this characteristic. We may not all have it to the same level, but no one can be part of the kingdom without it. Genuine members of God’s kingdom realize that they are not part of the kingdom by works. They are not part of the kingdom because they are worthy.
 
And so we see the Gospel of the kingdom in this first beatitude. To be poor in spirit is the strongest statement of the doctrine of justification by faith alone. If there is nothing we can do, then we cannot be justified by works. This means that we must be justified by someone else’s works. That someone else is Jesus Christ. He has died to pay the penalty for all of our sins. He has lived to give us his perfect righteousness. Jesus is saying that we can be confident that God has given us the righteousness of Christ, because we realize that our works merit nothing. If we realize this then “ours is the kingdom of God.”

Being poor in spirit had further application to the Christian.  

1. It means that we should not be prideful.

2. It means that we should not insist on our way.

3. It means that if someone has offended us, we show humility and quietly bring the issue to the person and not spread it around the congregation. This is Matthew 18.

4. It means that we do not look down our noses at others struggling with sins. Instead we quietly help them. 

MY AFFLICTIONS ARE TOO GREAT!

“My afflictions are too great!” Though we may not say this out loud, we probably often times think it, concerning whatever it is we are going through. Once we adopt this attitude it is easy to become turned in on ourselves and have a pity party. In fact, I would argue that this is man’s natural tendency as a fallen creature. We are self-centered and that self-centeredness manifests itself by dwelling on our own feelings. Our thoughts become about ourselves and not about God and neighbor. Once our thoughts are directed away from God and neighbor, we necessarily have a distorted view of the world. We misinterpret God’s actions towards us in providence and our neighbor’s actions towards us. God and neighbor now become “against us.” This is a frame of mind that needs correction.

Jeremiah Burroughs wrote a book called The Rare Jewel of Christian Contentment, where he deals with changing this kind of attitude. He has several remedies for fostering contentment, but I want to focus on one. He states the complaint as follows:

Oh, but it is very great, my affliction is exceedingly great,’ says someone, ‘and however you say we must be contented, you may say so who do not feel such great afflictions, but if you felt my affliction, which I feel, you would think it hard to bear and be content.

To that I answer:

1. Let it be as great an affliction as it will, it is not as great as your sin. He has punished you less than your sins.

2. It might have been a great deal more, you might have been in hell. And it is, if I remember, Bernard’s saying, "It is an easy matter to be oppressed than to perish." You might have been in hell, and therefore the greatness of the thing should not make you murmur, even grant it to be great.

3. It may be that it is greater because your heart murmurs so. Shackles upon a man’s legs, if his legs are sore, will pain him more. If the shoulder is sore, the burden is the greater. It is because your heart is so unsound that your affliction is great to you.

In a world where pop psychology dribbles from many pulpits, this advice sounds harsh. But dare I say that, contrary to historical revisionists, the Puritans were a much happier people than we! 

12 THINGS WE LEARN FROM THE APOSTLES' CREED

The Apostles' Creed has been used by millions of Christians around the world since the fourth century. Even though it was not written by the original twelve apostles, every single line in the creed was affirmed by the apostles and earliest Christians. The twelve things it emphasizes are twelve important things we learn about Christianity in the New Testament. There are twelve things the Apostles' Creed teaches us:

1. God is not only our powerful creator, but is also our caring Father.

The first article gives us confidence in the power of God, because all creatures are dependent on him for existence. It also gives us confidence in the love of God, that no creature can separate us from our faithful Father.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
— Romans 8:38-39

2. Jesus Christ is our Lord.

The second article reminds us that we are not our own, but belong to Jesus who has made us his own. 

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
— 1 Corinthians 6:20b

3. Jesus was miraculously conceived by the Holy Spirit through Mary.

This third article is important because Jesus’ innocence from conception to the end of his life is what covers all of our sins. Since he was conceived and born like us in every respect, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15; 7:26, 27), he is able to redeem us from the curse of God’s holy law. Unlike us, and all babies who are born after the Fall (Genesis 3), Jesus was sinless from conception and birth. 

4. Jesus suffered, was crucified by the Romans in the first century, and died.

In this fourth article, we confess that Jesus lived the perfect life and died the death that we deserved in order to save us from the wrath of God. In addition, we are reminded that the Christian faith is an historic faith—Jesus lived and died at the same time that Pontius Pilate, an obscure Roman governor, was ruling. This is not myth or fairy-tale, it is a faith founded on facts.

5. Jesus rose from the dead.

This fifth article teaches us that by his resurrection Jesus overcame death so that he could make us partakers in his death and resurrection. His resurrection from the dead is a pledge to us that we too will be raised from the dead as he was.

6. Jesus ascended into heaven and is exalted.

In this sixth article we affirm that Jesus is now our Advocate in heaven before our Father, pleading and interceding on our behalf and for our sake. When he ascended, Jesus also poured out his Spirit upon us, his church, gifting us with a down payment of what is to come.

7. Jesus will return in judgment.

This seventh article is an especially great comfort to those who are suffering and who face persecution. We affirm that Jesus will come to make every wrong right, and that his war will be the war to end all wars indefinitely. All of his people will then enter into glory and have everlasting joy and life.

8. The Holy Spirit is a person of the Holy Trinity.

The eighth article reminds us that the Holy Spirit is a person in the Godhead, just as the Son is God and the Father is God. We are also comforted by the fact that the Holy Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ who is in heaven, and makes us more and more like him each day—gifting us with his benefits each Lord’s Day as we hear the word preached and taste the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

9. The church is universal.

This ninth article reminds us that God has since the beginning of time always gathered, defended, and preserved for himself his church. It spans across all ages and in many different places, and it is in this church that all of us Christians belong.

10. There is a fellowship of Christians across all times and places.

The tenth article concerns the communion of saints. We do not only belong to Jesus Christ, but we belong to one another—to all who share the name of the Triune God and call on the name of Jesus. Since we belong to one another we should readily share our gifts with those in need, and any abundance we have we should seek to bless and further Christ’s church on this earth.

11. Our sins are truly and really forgiven in Christ.

The eleventh article is perhaps the sweetest of them all. Because of what Jesus has done for us in his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, God will no longer remember our sins against him and our neighbors. To all of you who believe in Jesus Christ alone, you are no longer under condemnation.

12. Our bodies will be resurrected. Heaven is for real.

The twelfth article concludes with a strong emphasis on the reality of our bodily resurrection. Too often we tend to think of the spiritual life as exclusively soul-related, but it is just as much bodily. Further, there is no greater comfort than to know that in Christ, soon we will be in total possession of perfect blessedness—such than no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man conceived of. Heaven is for real, and we will be with the Triune God soon.

TWO THINGS TO REMEMBER DURING ELECTION YEAR

It’s 2016, and this upcoming November means the U.S. is due for a new president. There’s so much cross-talk happening over which candidate evangelical Christians should support—this is to be expected in politics but it usually irks me the wrong way when I overhear my brothers and sisters in Christ labeling one candidate as inherently superior to another. Here are two things that all of us need to remember this election year. Happy voting in 2016!

1. A Christian is not obligated to endorse any single candidate or party.

A Christian is free to vote for any candidate if his conscience allows for it and as far as someone can tell, the candidate is not the embodiment of pure evil (like Emperor Palpatine/Darth Sidius in the Star Wars saga). Mark Galli over at Christianity Today nailed it when he said: the “litmus test of an evangelical is not his or her stance on Donald Trump. The most decisive political act we perform is not our support for or against Trump or Cruz or Clinton or Sanders or whomever. Our most radical political act happens when we gather and worship together under the sign of the Cross—a sign of contradiction to a world that lusts for political power—bending the knee to the Lord who “brings princes to naught and reduces the rulers of the world to nothing” (Is. 40:23, NIV) on the way to establishing a political order that knows no injustice.” As Christians, we are defined not by our political party associations or our search for a new political savior—but we are defined by that heavenly city that is to come—a new political, global, social, and eternal society that is on its way and will arrive once Jesus returns at the end of history.

2. People who are satisfied with their new presidential savior in 2016 will be looking for another by 2017.

We all remember the false promises of our elementary school and high school class presidents. “Free donuts for everyone!” “If you vote for me, I’ll make sure we have recess for the whole day!” False promise after false promise, sadly—modern American politics are no different. Sure, the promises change and may seem more believable—but at the end of the day no political candidate is going to usher in the new heavens and new earth. No political candidate can redeem us from the curse of the law, forgive us of our sins, and bring about true and lasting justice to the ends of the earth. Global unrest will continue, terrorism will happen, and some people will starve in third world countries. We should be very wary of hoping in our next presidential favorite to save us from all of our problems. Ultimately, the only one capable of doing this has already done it by hanging on a cross 2,000 years ago at Calvary. Jesus Christ is the only savior—there is no other. As the Psalmist writes:

Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation. When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God, who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed, who gives food to the hungry.
— Psalm 146:3-7

MORAL KNOWLEDGE

In Romans 2, the apostle Paul tells us that moral knowledge of God’s law is innate to man. He writes:

For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them
— Romans 2:14-15

Paul’s point is that human beings have God’s law written in their hearts. Every human being knows what God requires of them because these requirements are inside them by nature. We should conclude three things from this truth.
 
1. Right and wrong is not so much taught as it is innate. There is a tendency to believe that people do not already know right and wrong and they must be instructed in it. Moral knowledge must be poured in them from the outside. Paul says that this is wrong. God’s law is written in our hearts and this means that knowledge of right and wrong is innate.

Like dirt on a window, sin obscures a clear knowledge of the law. This is why moral instruction is necessary, not so much to implant God’s law into us, as to help us see what is there more clearly. Moral instruction is also necessary in order to help us develop virtues. However, every human being from birth knows God’s law and is therefore morally responsible.  
 
2. Doing right is being human, doing wrong is being less human. The knowledge of God’s law in our hearts is part of the image of God in which we were created. The image of God is what makes us human. Animals are not created in this image. Therefore, to be truly human, we need to obey Gods law. Sin actually makes us less human. When we sin we are denying or suppressing what we know to be our true human nature. This is why many of the great saints of the past made a connection between virtue and happiness. Serving and obeying God is the greatest good or summum bonum. It is the goal and purpose for which we were created, our telos. We were created to be happy creatures, but that happiness only comes when we are doing what we were designed to do, namely serve and obey God.    

3. Sin ruined everything. Because of sin we do not and cannot perfectly obey God’s law. Misery and unhappiness are now part of man because of sin. This does not negate our moral responsibility. The law is still written in our hearts and God holds us accountable to that law. Apart from Christ the law that was to guide us into happiness. The law is now the basis for our just condemnation by God. Since we violate God’s law from birth countless times, we are guilty. That guilt must be punished by God’s wrath. We will either pay that penalty ourselves or trust in Jesus Christ who paid it in our place on the cross. The law written in our hearts ought to drive us to Christ. It ought to show us that we fall short of God’s requirements and this ought to cause us to look for salvation outside of ourselves. That salvation is freely available in Jesus Christ alone. He is the only one that went to the cross to pay the guilt of our sins. Faith in Christ is the only way to salvation.