If there was ever a teaching of Jesus that you’d think everyone would be happy to comply with, it’s his directive in Luke 20:23 to rejoice and leap for joy! Right?
Well, maybe sometimes, but not when you read the context. The idea of rejoicing and leaping for joy brings to mind Jesus lying in a grassy meadow, basking in the sunshine of his father’s love with nary a care in the world . . . and I’ll bet there were a few times when Jesus felt just that happy and content. But, probably not too often after he began his public ministry when he was thirty. During those three years, he fully engaged with the people around him and began introducing the message of the Kingdom of God, which turned the contemporary cultural mores inside out and the world upside down.
What did Jesus teach? Among other things, he taught what are today known as “The Beatitudes,” those states of being which cause God to bless us. These are not based on accomplishments but attitudes and conditions that most of us would consider very difficult: being poor in spirit, mourning, being meek, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, and then three P’s: being pure, being a peacemaker, and being persecuted.
Probably all of the conditions listed in the Beatitudes lead upward and build on each other, but the last three are especially obvious in their cause and effect relationships. First, we need to be pure. If we are not, we’ll have no insight or incentive to be peacemakers. (Think about corruption in government and law enforcement.)
However, those who understand and ascribe to the goodness of purity will also try to make peace with others. In the event the “others” have no desire to live in purity and desire the freedom to live immoral lives, they will confound attempts at peace and eventually turn in anger on the pure in heart, persecuting the pure for not approving their ungodly life styles.
We see this (sadly) in America today, where sins that were condemned historically are now becoming so commonplace that people are persecuted for saying the behaviors are wrong! Jesus turned the world upside down, but now the world is trying to right itself by condemning the Bible as outmoded and no longer valid! “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20).
If you find yourself confused by the changes in our culture, don’t be. Jesus forewarned us that this would happen, and He reminded us that our job is to continue faithfully following Christ, accepting the persecution that comes from trying to live a pure and peaceable life, knowing that you are in good company with those who came before us and were also rejected.
HOWEVER, one thing I’ve had to learn over and over again is that the first of the beatitudes come first: We need to understand our own poverty of spirit in order to be born again and enter the kingdom of heaven. We need to mourn over our sins and find the comfort that only God’s forgiveness provides. He need to learn meekness, so that we receive the blessing of experiencing unity with all mankind on earth. We need to continuously hunger and thirst after more righteousness so that we do become pure. Then, and only then, will be be in a position to be a true peacemaker!
A true peacemaker loves the sinner while hating the sin. He can accept the immoral person while rejecting their immoral actions. He can identify with, love, and grieve over fellow loved ones who are rejecting God and his ways. A peacemaker isn’t unkind. He isn’t mean. He respects. He doesn’t say derogatory things or do anything to harm someone else. His intention is always to express love and bring everyone together in the bond of peace. If this isn’t what you are doing or what you are seeing, then what you are doing or seeing is not Christian.
Nevertheless, Jesus made sure we understood that persecution for righteousness would come, and he tells us to do the opposite of what comes naturally. Just as being humble and seeking peace aren’t natural responses, neither is rejoicing in the midst of persecution! But, that’s what Jesus told us to do, not because we enjoy persecution, but so that we can find comfort in knowing that suffering for the sake of Christ is approved by God and he will bless us.
Texts for today’s meditation: “And seeing the multitudes, he went up into a mountain: and when he was set, his disciples came unto him: And he opened his mouth, and taught them, saying,3 Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.4 Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.5 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth.6 Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.9 Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.10 Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.11 Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.12 Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you” (Matthew 5:1-12).
“And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said, Blessed be ye poor: for yours is the kingdom of God.21 Blessed are ye that hunger now: for ye shall be filled. Blessed are ye that weep now: for ye shall laugh.22 Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.23 Rejoice ye in that day, and leap for joy: for, behold, your reward is great in heaven: for in the like manner did their fathers unto the prophets” (Luke 6:20-23).
(Credits: All the photos are mine except for the painting of Jesus lying in a grassy field, which is used by permission of the artist, Yongsung Kim: Havenlight.com)