Invest With the Best
Dr. Jim Denison
A good friend recently sent me my favorite new story. It seems that a couple from Minneapolis decided to go to Florida for a long weekend during a particularly icy winter. Their job schedules required the husband to fly down on a Thursday, with his wife to follow the next day.
Upon arriving, the husband checked into the hotel and then sent his wife an e-mail back in Minneapolis. However, he accidentally mistyped her address. Meanwhile, in Houston a widow had just returned from her minister husband’s funeral. She checked her e-mails, read the first message, and fainted. Her son rushed into the room, found her on the floor, and saw this message on her computer screen:
“To my loving wife, from your departed husband: I’ve just arrived and have been checked in. I see that everything is prepared for your arrival tomorrow. Looking forward to seeing you then. Hope your journey is as uneventful as mine was. P.S. Sure is hot down here!”
Surprise is not always a good thing. But sometimes it’s a great thing. Cancer which further tests can’t find; a final exam at school which is cancelled; an investment which exceeds all forecasts. Happiness in surprising places.
“Makarios” is Greek for that happiness which transcends every circumstance of life, a deep inner joy which nothing in life can give or steal. A constant sense of well-being, purpose, and significance. Happiness no matter how hot the summer becomes, or how long your in-laws stay, or what happens in Iraq or Dallas, with the economy or your family. This is to be “blessed.” This is true success. It is found in the most surprising places you can imagine.
Choose Jesus’ world-view
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Jesus said. Before we discover what he meant by this paradox, let’s first learn why he said it.
The world Jesus inhabited was characterized by three big words. They were pluralistic, worshipping a multitude of gods. They were relativistic, with no unified or objective definition for right and wrong. And they were self-actualized, depending upon themselves for survival and success.
Is our world any different?
Are we pluralists? Conventional wisdom now says that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all worship the same God, and that no one religion is right or wrong. The title of Diana Eck’s new book makes the point: A New Religious America: How a “Christian Country” Has Become the World’s Most Religiously Diverse Nation. Do you truly believe Jesus’ claim, “no one comes to the Father but by me” (John 14:6)? Most don’t.
Are we relativists? Since the 1960s we’ve been told that we’re a “mosaic,” coagulated groups rather than united individuals. There’s no right or wrong, just what’s right or wrong for you or for me. Do you truly believe that the Bible is the complete truth on abortion, homosexuality, or any other ethical issue? Most don’t.
Are we self-actualized, self-reliant? Nine of ten Americans believe in God, but one in four seek his help in worship each week. For every problem there’s an expert to solve it, from personal physical trainers to specialized counselors to on-line nurses. Americans crowded into churches after September 11, but now we’re back to “normal.” For what problem in your life are you relying completely upon God this morning?
This is not the world Jesus taught in his Sermon on the Mount. As we will discover across these weeks, Jesus was not a pluralist: there is only one God, and only one way to him. He was not a relativist: there is only one way, truth, and life, and he taught it. He was not self-actualized: success and happiness are not human achievements but God’s gifts.
We can be “blessed” only if we choose his world-view, only if we adopt his values and priorities. Only if we learn his rules for living, his keys to true success. The Beatitudes give us those keys.
Seek the “blessing” of God
“When Jesus saw the crowds, Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him and he began to teach them” (v. 1).
This “mountainside” is known today as the “Mount of the Beatitudes,” a beautiful spot overlooking the Sea of Galilee. Here Jesus “sat down,” as the Jewish rabbis did, their students standing around them in deference and attention. We still speak of a professor’s “chair” for this reason.
He began to teach “them,” his disciples. These Beatitudes and the Sermon which follows them presume that their hearers are already Jesus’ disciples, his followers. This is not the plan of salvation, or it would be works-righteousness. That’s religion, not relationship. Here we discover not how to be saved but how to live like it, how to live out the personal relationship with Jesus given to us by God’s grace through the cross.
Here are keys to true success, how to be “blessed” by God. And the first is crucial to all the rest. You will be “blessed” so that you are happy beyond all circumstances when you are “poor in spirit.” So what does this mean?
“Poor” here means to be as poor as a beggar. This is not the Greek word for an impoverished person (penes) but the word for absolute and abject poverty (ptochos). This is the person who has absolutely nothing—no food, no clothes, nothing at all.
“In spirit” shows us the kind of poverty Jesus means. John Stott: “To be ‘poor in spirit’ is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty, indeed our spiritual bankruptcy, before God. For we are sinners, under the holy wrath of God, and deserving nothing but the judgment of God. We have nothing to offer, nothing to plead, nothing with which to buy the favor of heaven” (p. 39).
The New English Bible renders the phrase better than any other translation: “Blessed are those who know their need of God.”
Why? “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”