A beginners guide to following the Way

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When Jesus introduced the way of life to the masses he began by describing the heart that is required in the follower. He opened his teaching by declaring:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” 

Matt 5:3

First and foremost Jesus wanted to let everyone know that the path begins with a recognition of your own spiritual poverty. Those that are full despise food, those that think they know cannot be taught. Therefore, the blessing will not fall to the rich or to the self-satisfied. The blessing will instead fall on those who understand their need of it.

In this simple phrase, Jesus gives a profound truth to anyone that would follow His path. First, you have to understand your need, if not, you will never be willing to hear what you need to hear. You will never be prepared to sacrifice what you need to sacrifice. You will never find the blessing you seek. Step one is understanding your poverty.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Matt 5:4

The first quality was an understanding of our own spiritual poverty. The second is much like it, but has a much more tangible character. Blessed are those who mourn. To live in this world for any length of time will bring about loss. Only the very young or very clueless cannot relate to mourning on some level. Jesus immediately addresses one of the most personal and damaging aspects of life on earth, that of loss. He does not specify a type of loss because I believe his intent was to address the entire audience on a level that He knew they could relate. Death, separation, deep losses of every kind. Those that know mourning will find blessing along the path of Jesus.

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”

Matt 5:5

Jesus now offers a blessing to an unlikely and somewhat surprising group. It is a blessing for the meek. And unlike the first two blessings which were general in nature this blessing is much more specific. The meek will inherit the earth. This is so shocking both then and now that most people I suspect see this as an empty sentiment. Hope for the hopeless, so to speak. Because as everyone knows, this world is not ruled by the meek or the weak. This world belongs to the strong and the rich. The powerful, ambitious, and ruthless.

But Jesus is not pointing at the world that is. But the world that will be. This is a foreshadowing of his coming kingdom. Where the powers of darkness and all those that now rule this world are finally vanquished, and in their place dwell the meek, the gentle, and the humble. The race is currently dominated by the aggressive, and powerful, but it will ultimately be won by the gentle, the humble, and the faithful. The meek are the ones that will abide forever.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Matt 5:6

Those that are hungry for power and control seem to get everything in the current world order. In the kingdom of God however, it is those that hunger for righteousness that will finally be satisfied. Again we see the contrast between those whose focus are on this present world only, and those whose eyes are on eternity. Hungering for righteousness in an unrighteous world can be a recipe for frustration rather than satisfaction. But in this simple statement we see a promise of a future where righteousness can be known.

But more than that, these promises are not simply a promise of a better world someday. This promise, in particular, is a promise that can be realised in this life, though perhaps not as fully as in the next. We will know the righteousness of God in this life, if we truly hunger for it. For Christ is the righteousness of God. By faith we are in Him and he is in us. Though at the time that Jesus delivered this message, this promise was still veiled, Jesus is actually offering his own righteousness to anyone that truly hungers for it.

This promise was first offered by God through Isaiah, repeated here by Jesus, and finally and fully declared in the book of Revelation:

“All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord.
But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”

Isaiah 66:2

“Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.”

Isaiah 55:1-2

The Spirit and the Bride say, “Come.”

And let the one who hears say, “Come.”

And let the one who is thirsty come;

let the one who desires take the water of life without price.

Revelation 22:17

The Life of the Follower

This is God’s intent from the beginning. This is his offer to all those who truly hunger and thirst for righteousness and life. God has paid the price in Jesus so that all may know, all may drink and be filled, and all may find life in His Son Jesus.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.”

Matt 5:7

This simple statement is far-reaching. Though it seems sort of obvious in a sense, it reveals something very deep about the mercy and judgment of God. It has practical implications in this life, and contains a deep revelation about the nature of God’s judgment.

Later in this sermon Jesus describes mercy and judgment in this way:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.”

Matt 7:1-2

This often abused passage explains that in the final judgment we will be measured with the same ruler that we use to measure others in this life. The merciful will be shown mercy in the final analysis. This passage is often twisted into support for not getting involved in others lives. Clearly showing mercy includes far more than just leaving others as we find them. Mercy is an action taken for the good of others. It is, in essence, a forgiving heart, a heart that is ready to think the best, and a heart that is ready to help. It is not a heartless “live and let live” mentality. Live and let live is ultimately a selfish desire to correct no one and to have no one correct us. It will only leave us cold and alone in a hostile world. This is not where mercy leaves us.

When we add mercy to a heartless and self centered world it sets in motion the power of God. As we sow mercy we will reap mercy. Both from God and from others. We become part of the solution rather than a part of the problem.

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

Matt 5:8

Then there is this, a promise so big it almost sounds like hyperbole. The thought of seeing God is both exhilarating and frightening. We are overwhelmed with the thought of seeing God, and finally finding that missing piece. That elusive “thing” that we have been missing since humanity first rebelled against God. And yet fearful of what we will find when we see him. Our lingering guilt and remorse for the countless selfish transgressions of our lives shivers at the thought of seeing God.

But to the pure in heart the fog begins to clear revealing the truth that there is no life apart from the source of life. As we purify our hearts we begin to see God for who he truly is. We begin to see the grace, the mercy, the love, the kindness, the joy, and also the justice. The source of all that is good, all that we long for.

But to see God we have to get past the noise of our fallen hearts. The self-serving old nature needs to go. The sin must be forsaken. The desires retrained on God himself and his righteousness. We must learn what it means to possess real singleness of heart. A pure heart, unmixed. A heart focused on God and his glory alone. Where do we find a heart like this? In the cross of Christ alone.

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

Matt 5:9

Like father like son, or so the saying goes. Jesus teaches us once again how badly we misunderstand God. To be like God is to be a peacemaker. Paul describes the church’s purpose as being an agent of reconciliation in this world.

All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;

2 Corinthians 5:18

We see Christ’s ministry was to reconcile the world to God. To make peace where previously there was rebellion and animosity. And if we are to truly be sons of God we can do no less. We are to be peacemakers because we are now sons of God in Christ. We must continue the work he started. We are peacemakers now by means of our new nature in Christ. The very nature of God is now in us through Christ and we must exercise that gift, becoming agents of reconciliation. We are now all sons in Christ, we must be about the family business.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Matt 5:10-12

Finally, the one who would follow the way of Jesus must never think that you can follow a way foreign to this world without opposition. Those that follow the way will find themselves walking in a way that the world at large wants no part of. The selfless path will not be embraced by a world dedicated to the exaltation of self. Those that listened to Jesus will listen to us. Those that hated Jesus will in the same way hate us. We should have no illusions that we can defy the principles of this world without consequence.

The Response of the Follower

In these short phrases Jesus gives us hope, and promises that beggar the imagination. But with them come the realities of living godly in an ungodly world. Nevertheless, we are blessed even on the worst day because our hope is not bound up in today, it is an eternal blessing. One that continues long after this world is a distant memory.

So with all this in mind what should our response be? What else can it be, with such blessings at stake? We must with whole hearts walk this path. This is the way of life. This is the way of peace. This is the path of God’s Son. This is now the path of us all since Christ has opened this path at the cost of His own life. Blessings of this sort do not exist in the current rebellious and self-centered world. We would be fools to let such an offer go unanswered.

The path is not complicated but it is hard, and does come at great cost. It cost God his Son. It cost the Son his glory with God and finally his life. It will also cost us our self-serving, self-glorifying ambitions. But it will not leave us destitute. Quite the opposite. It will leave us blessed and fulfilled, in this age and the next.

As we recognize our need and our inability to achieve eternal happiness. We humble ourselves and allow the Spirit of God to do in us what we could never do for ourselves. As we obey Jesus and begin to walk the path of life. When we stop worrying about our own fulfillment and begin to seek the good of others, we will find the very blessing we thought we would never find. God help us to follow in this new way, the way of life. The way of Jesus.

Glacier Park Lake McDonald north view

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