Deliverance, Mercy, and Suffering
Deliverance, Mercy, and Suffering
Over the past several weeks, at the Presbyterian Church, we’ve been looking at the life of Jesus. And how after his baptism and Temptations, Jesus traveled about Galilee, preaching and teaching of the coming of the kingdom of God.
In fact, last Sunday, we looked at Jesus’ message, which was “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” He didn’t start with turn the other cheek… He didn’t start with go the extra mile… He didn’t even begin with forgive, and forget. He began with repent.
You and I begin our life in Christ via metamorphosis. We are radically changed if we are changed at all. To repent, is to be completely transformed both inside and out. Repentance brings radical change that makes a radical difference in our lives.
Of course, healers, miracle workers… preachers and teachers, in Jesus day, were a dime-a-dozen (much like today). Many were just false “con-men” who were putting on a nickel and dime show, trying to make a quick buck by taking a vantage of pain and suffering…
But Jesus was different... and people recognized him as different. He did go around performing miracles… but not like others. It would be said of Jesus that he taught as “one with authority” and people responded to that authority. John the Baptist had declared that Jesus was the “ONE” anointed by God, sent to deliver God’s people.
So word about Jesus began to get around. People talk. I’m sure they were wondering what’s going on here? What’s up with this Jesus we keep hearing about? His teachings, and his actions, were attracting attention...
It’s in this context, that Jesus preaches his Sermon on the Mount (as we call it). And as people were wondering, and questioning - Jesus answered! The Bible tells us that when Jesus saw the crowds he went up the mountain, and his disciples gathered around.
Now, when most of us picture Jesus, making his way up the mountain, we imagine him gathering a huge crowd of thousands of people, in order to be heard. And yes, it’s quite possible there were thousands of people in the crowd… But Jesus was not addressing multitudes. The Bible is clear he was addressing his disciples.
Of course, the “disciples” Matthew mentions were not the 12 disciples... Jesus had only called four of the 12 at this point. So “disciples” must have meant those people, who had come to believe in Jesus, and were attempting to follow him, in order to learn from his teaching. It may have been as many as 100 people. Maybe more! But I’m pretty sure it was far less than the crowd that we usually imagine.
Regardless, since Jesus was addressing his “disciples”, maybe he made his way up the mountain to be alone with his disciples? To get away from the “world.” Maybe he was trying to find a more intimate place, a more private place to teach his disciples. But I’m not so sure. I don’t think privacy was the issue. There are way more private, intimate places to teach than on a mountainside. Jesus trip up the mountain was more symbolic than that. Who else had made his way up a mountain while delivering the people of God? MOSES. Jesus was saying, “I’m like Moses. I’m here to bring deliverance.”
Now, listen: there are several things you and I can learn from the beatitudes about Jesus, and about what following Jesus is all about. And among those things is the fact that Christ came to bring deliverance.
Matthew chose his words very carefully when he described Jesus actions and teachings. He made it clear that Jesus is the Deliverer… He is the Savior of his people. Matthew wants us to see Jesus as the new Moses. Jesus had come to lead his people out of slavery to sin and death, much like Moses had been called to lead the people from slavery & bondage in Egypt.
This was important for Matthew’s original audience. They needed to understand what kind of leader Jesus was. He wasn’t like the Scribes & Pharisees. Nor was he some “fly-by-night” Messiah “wanna be” who was planning a military revolt. He wasn’t just some “run-of-the-mill” miracle worker who’d put on a good show for a few bucks. Jesus is the Savior, the deliverer; who calls us to be a community of deliverance.
But another thing that you and I learn from Matthew, that may be the most important thing for the church… is that Jesus calls us to be a community of humility. It’s an echo of our scripture from Micah: “What does the Lord require? To DO Justice, to LOVE mercy, and to WALK Humbly...” It’s a directive that’s clearly reflected in the beatitudes themselves. Blessed (which can also be translated FAVORED or RICH) are the poor in spirit, the meek, the merciful. Jesus is saying that these are the characteristics that God blesses. God will deliver the meek, he’ll give them the Earth. God will reward the merciful, and show the mercy. God will bless the poor in spirit... for theirs is the Kingdom.
The overriding attribute (or characteristic) of the beatitudes, is humility. Jesus is saying, blessed are the people who think of others first and humble themselves before God. Blessed are those who mourn (not necessarily because they’re grieving the loss of a loved one), but because we all have plenty to mourn over. We’ve all caused someone grief... we’ve all caused someone pain. We’ve all sinned against our neighbor, and in so doing, we have sinned against God. And when we acknowledge that, in humility, God will comfort us in our mourning. He will bless those who hunger and thirst for righteousness… God will satisfy the longings of the humble.
The community of deliverance, the church of Christ, is distinguished from other communities, because of its humility before God. Our humility is part of what makes us different.
Think about it: the political community seeks to serve itself by taking power, but the community of Christ seeks to serve others as we give ourselves away in service and sacrifice. The community of religion tries to manipulate God, but the community of Christ seeks to surrender to God. The community of wealth tries to buy deliverance, but the community of Christ is meek and poor in spirit before God. So the church of Christ is called to be a humble community of deliverance… it’s a defining characteristic of who we are.
But there’s another thing that we learn from the beatitudes… that is without doubt the most uncomfortable thing Jesus says in our scripture lesson today.
That is, the church of Christ is a community of suffering. The end of the Beatitudes is kind of a rude awakening. Verses 3-9 are all about “blessed this” and “blessed that.” But then, Jesus says, “blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake.” I’m sure the disciples immediately thought of other people who were being persecuted, maybe people they knew, they felt sorry for, and happy that God will bless those who are persecuted. But Jesus didn’t stop there. Jesus said, “blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all manner of evil against you falsely on my account.”
Like any preacher worth his salt, Jesus used his pronouns, carefully, in order to bring his message home to those who listen. The disciples, those who follow Christ, would suffer… they would be persecuted. They would be slandered and hated an ostracized because of their love for Jesus.
It’s not necessarily easy to be a humble community of deliverance. Sometimes people who are trying to bring real peace are the ones who get treated the worst.
The Church is called speak the truth and love. To declare God’s righteousness, to be BOLD... but ALWAYS with the right intentions... and so we take stands, regarding murder, drugs, or pornography, gambling, materialism, or sexuality, or adultery, or abortion… But when we do... there’s always someone out there, who’s going to hate us for it. But Jesus says when you and I are speaking the truth, with the right intentions, for the right reasons, we should not fear… In fact, we should count it all joy… We should rejoice… Because God will reward his faithful.
Of course, the problem is, many times we fail to speak the truth in love. Sometimes we speak hateful words that are meant to cut, words that are meant to cause damage, instead of words that are meant to bring hope… and life… and deliverance. That’s why many people quickly tell you they love Jesus… but I don’t like his church very much. Sometimes, we present the gospel, as if it is a litmus test, used to create a Members Only society, a country club… where only those WE choose are qualified and welcomed.
Is that really what Jesus intended us to be? Is the church today a humble community of deliverance, that’s willing to suffer on account of Christ? You know, all too often the church is so busy looking out for its own interest, that it has no time to actually build the kingdom of God. All too often the church digresses , into some kind of social gathering place, instead of a place of healing, and restoration, and deliverance. Too often the church is not willing to suffer for the sake of Christ, and those he died for.
I wonder what people see when they look at our church, which is just another way of asking what folks see when they look at us? Do they see humility and meekness and hunger for righteousness and mercy?
Are we willing to be that kind of church, are we willing to be the kind of church that Jesus has called us to be?
I hope so, for Christ’s sake, I hope so.