Seward United Methodist Church
Sunday, October 21, 2018
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Blessed By God

Revelation 7:9-17 (before the Lighting of Candles)

 There are three things that stand out to me in this passage.  

 The first is the phrase, “a vast crowd, too great to count.”  That tells us that there is a wideness in God’s grace.  There is an invitation to everyone.  There is no end to God’s desire that every person should be reconciled to him through Jesus Christ and enter into eternal life.  

 The second is the phrase “from every nation, tribe, people, and language.”  Is that our vision of the redeemed?  If our vision of the redeemed is a bunch of people that look like us, talk like us, think like us, then we are going to be in for a surprise.  God’s grace is extended to the entire world, and from all the world people will enter into his eternal Kingdom.

 And the third thing, and I think this is the best of the lot, is to see what God will do for the redeemed.  I count five things:

 First, God will purify us from everything unclean.  “They have washed their robes in the blood of the Lamb and made them white.”  

 Second, God will give us his eternal presence.  “We will stand before his throne and serve him day and night.”

 Third, God will give us his eternal provision.  “He will give them shelter.  They will never again be hungry or thirsty and they will never be scorched by the sun.”

 Fourth, God will give us his eternal guidance.  “The Lamb on the throne will be their Shepherd, and he will lead them to springs of life-giving water.”  

 And finally, God will give us his eternal comfort.  “And God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”  

 As we remember those who, in the last year, have gone on to join that vast crowd from every nation, may we be comforted with the knowledge of all that God has done and will forevermore do for them.  

 

Matthew 5:1-12

 The very first message Jesus delivers publicly in Matthew’s Gospel is in chapter four:  “Repent of your sin, turn to God, for the Kingdom of God is near.”  God’s Kingdom is breaking into the world.  What is it going to look like?  How will it come?  How will the Kingdom be different from the world?  

 It’s no coincidence that Jesus’ next words to the crowds are the Beatitudes.  They show us how the Kingdom of God comes, what it looks like, and how it is different from the world.

 Beatitudes were an ancient Hebrew form of teaching.  Psalm 1 begins with a beatitude:  “Oh, the joys of those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners, or join in with mockers.  But they delight in the law of the LORD, meditating on it day and night.  They are like trees planted along the riverbank, bearing fruit each season.  Their leaves never wither, and they prosper in all they do.”  

 Each beatitude begins with the word “blessed,” MAKARIOS in Greek.  The word could also be translated as “happy” or “fortunate.”  But blessed, I think, is the best translation.  Happy implies an emotional state that can come or go quickly.  Fortunate has the implication of “lucky,” and that opens a whole ball of wax.  Blessed is best, I think, because it carries the sense of having joy, peace, and hope that come from God and are apart from present circumstances.  

 “Blessed are the poor.”  This is best understood as the “poor in spirit,” those who acknowledge their need for God.  The poor are not self-sufficient.  They don’t have the illusion of thinking they can go it alone in life.  We are blessed if we know we need God.

 “Blessed are those who mourn.”  Mourning is especially associated with repentance, mourning over sin.  It might also have the sense of mourning over the brokenness of the world we live in with all its death, disease, tragedy, and so on.

 “Blessed are the meek, or humble.”  Humble people don’t try to elevate themselves above others.  They think more of others than self.

 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.”  It could also be translated as “righteousness.”  The world is full of injustice and unrighteousness.  Those who long for justice and righteousness will, in the end, be satisfied.

 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.”  Those who give mercy in this life will receive it on the Day of Judgment.

 “Blessed are the pure in heart.”  To be pure in heart means we desire only one thing:  “God’s will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.”  

 “Blessed are the peace-makers.”  The Hebrew word for peace is SHALOM, and it carries the sense of wholeness.  A peace-maker is someone who works to make things whole, to restore brokenness of body, mind, spirit, and relationships.  

 “And blessed are those who are persecuted for their faithful following of Jesus.”  If our faith were only superficial and shallow, it would not attract the attention of the world.  It’s only when our faith challenges the world that we are persecuted.

 The Kingdom has a very different set of values than the world.  And the Kingdom comes in a way that the world doesn’t expect.  It doesn’t come through wealth or strength or war or power.  Therefore, we should always beware of those things, especially when we are tempted to use them.

 The Church doesn’t always have the best record.  We’ve made some mistakes over the centuries.  There was a time when the Church wielded wealth and power, and even times when it declared war to advance God’s Kingdom on others.  

 Have we learned the lesson?  Maybe, but probably not.  We are still tempted to use the world’s ways to try to bring about God’s Kingdom.  If we do, we are violating Jesus’ words about what the Kingdom is like and how it comes.  

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