Following Jesus today
I am not much of a golfer. In fact I golf once a year in our annual ‘Church’ golf day where a bunch of hackers get together and play a best-ball tournament of sorts. Actually there are some pretty decent golfers in the crowd, but I am not one of them. Anyways, I know enough about golf to know that your ‘approach shot’ to the green is critical. Good golfers will be able to plunk their golf ball close to the pin when approaching the green. Great golfers do it consistently and even hole out on their approach! I have done this maybe three times in my entire life. Needless to say, in golf, ‘the approach’ is key. The same can be said regarding the topic in my next round of blogs.
Lately at Calvary Pentecostal Church, I have been preaching/teaching from the book of Matthew. More specifically, we have been looking meticulously at the teaching Jesus gave recorded in Matthew 5-7. It is known as The Sermon on the Mount, or The Beatitudes. It is probably the most widely known teachings of Jesus.
When approaching this important passage I believe we need to keep the following four things in mind. First, the sermon is to be seen as a detailed exposition for Jesus’ hearers of what repentance (which literally means a “change of direction” or “about face”) involves. Jesus expects that a life change will result from believing and following Him. Second, these character traits are for every believer (not just the special extra holy ones). Jesus believes every follower is to produce these essential qualities. Third, these characteristics are to be lived now. This was not just some futuristic thing or qualities pertaining to the Millennium or future coming Kingdom. Fourth, These are spiritual qualities, or qualities of the Holy Spirit which are not naturally obtained or naturally expressed. In other words, you cannot obtain these things on your own.
In this fantastic message, Jesus essentially gives His followers a detailed expression of what living for Him looks like. Why? Simply because these qualities are of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Jesus had just spent some successful time ministering to people in Galilee proclaiming and demonstrating the good news of The Kingdom (Matthew 4:23-25). Taking this opportunity with the crowds, Jesus lays out some fundamental aspects to what living for God looks like. Like any good parent, Jesus lays out the ground rules for the children of God. Here are three ‘new’ things Jesus is asking of those who proclaim to be His.
New Values: Jesus is establishing new values for His followers to live by. Jolting the original audiences ears, Jesus teaches a new system of values for His followers to live by. What is so shocking is that the foundations of His Kingdom essentially run contradictory to the values that lie at the core of many human civilizations. By doing so Jesus proclaims that in these new values, you and I will find fulfilment or happiness. “Blessed” simply means ‘happiness’. But this is not a superficial happiness that fades after a moment. Not at all. The word used by Matthew here describes a deep inner joy which produces lasting happiness and satisfaction in life. In other words, when we embrace these new values and live them, we will find deep, inner joy. By living this new life, and surrendering ourselves to Him, we become stamped by the very image of God that is found in Christ. His mark is very different from the mark of culture or religion. In fact, Jesus often said that His followers are not to be like the religious crowd (Pharisees), because the religious crowd had become positionally proud and were parading their supposed good deeds for all to see (Matthew 6:5).
New Behaviours: Jesus is expecting new behaviour from His followers. Have you ever noticed that our values are always expressed in our actions. What is truly important to us will always find an expression in our daily lives. A visitor I know who came to Canada from another culture believed that coffee was obviously one of Canada’s most treasured possessions because of the plethora of Timmies and other java joints that sell caffeine products. Well, Jesus doesn’t use coffee to illustrate this point, but He does use two other objects to show what living for His Kingdom ought to be like. The first object was salt. Salt in Palestine often forms like flakes around the rock shores of the Dead Sea at night. In the morning as the sun rises, under the heat of the day, these flakes of salt lose their saltiness. Once that happens, these flakes of ‘salt’ begin to blend in with the rest of the shoreline. They have lost any ‘salty’ distinctiveness and now just blend in. The second object Jesus used was light. Lamps in the Ancient world were designed to be put on a stand, in full view, and not to be hidden. Light was something which stood out as a beacon for all to see as a contrast to the darkness. Both of these word pictures help us realize something about the values and behaviours of those who follow Jesus: there ought to be a noticeable difference from the values and behaviours of others in the world. There should be a difference in lifestyle, priorities, actions, and attitudes from the citizen of The Kingdom from the rest of the world. The life of the believer should reflect the reality of God’s Kingdom breaking through. A new set of values should reflect a new set of behaviours, which shows up in …
New Priorities: Jesus desires for new priorities to emerge. Remember what I said about things we value showing up in our behaviours? Well, our new behaviours should reflect some new priorities. Here’s the thing; we are all ‘busy’. There is always something to do. The question we need to ask is this: Do my actions reflect my values? In other words, does my behaviour match my beliefs? Am I seeking His Kingdom first? In our household we have five family values. I agree that seven, ten or twelve would have been a much more biblical number. But five is more than three, and honestly I am not sure I can personally do more than five! Our five family values have been passed down to our children through different methods over the years. At times we have had each family value in a picture frame lining our main hallway at children eye level so that our kids could read them when they needed to be reminded of them. I remember many a time escorting one of our children in front of one of those picture frames and asking them to read it and then tell me how their behaviour did not line up with that value. Currently we have all five ‘Holtz Family Values’ in one main picture frame hanging in our house. The point is that our family has identified five biblical values that we want to hold embrace and exhibit as priorities because of our relationship with Christ. We want to be a household that practices our faith in tangible ways in order to bring glory to God. This is what I believe Jesus is getting after. Jesus teaches that the Kingdom of God is His Divine Action breaking into the realm of humanity. His followers are able to personally experience His Kingly power in their individual lives. Where The King is, there is His Kingdom. If Jesus is your King, then His Kingdom should be evident too.
Salt and Light were used to demonstrate the impact that Jesus’ followers would make on their world, and in their world. We know that salt creates thirst, heals, and preserves. Yes. However, in order for salt to be salt, it must maintain its basic character. If salt fails to be salty it has lost its purpose for existence and should be discarded. Yikes!
For the next number of weeks we will be tackling the teachings of Jesus found in Matthew 5-7. In the church where I pastor, we are addressing this very thing too. We do not want to be a ‘church’ that has lost its most basic character. We want to be a ‘church’ that exhibits the basic character of the One we worship.
Consider reading through Philippians 3:7-11 and reflect upon what Paul was saying about the basic character, essential qualities for followers of Christ. We are on a quest to do the same. We are on a mission to experience and establishing His Kingdom within us, through us and around us now!