Recently, we’ve been looking at what Jesus had to say about gaining eternal life. We found that he didn’t always say, “believe in me and pray the Sinner’s Prayer.” In fact, he told his followers clearly that heaven was for those who loved sacrificially. In his words – including the Beatitudes – and miracles, he demonstrated that God wanted faith, not formulas.
In short, Jesus was not obsessively focused on doctrine as we often are today.
I promised to look at one more message from Jesus – and this is your lucky day, because you get a free bonus sermonette! We’ll be taking a look at a story from the book of Acts. (BTW have you signed up for my free newsletter?)
The Beatitudes: not just for Christians
Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount was full of radical teaching, but today we’ll just look at the Beatitudes.
As we look at the “Blesseds” one by one, notice what Jesus does not say: that blessing comes from conformity to a belief system.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
God treasures – and rewards – humility (the phrase “kingdom of heaven” is itself loaded, so we’ll save it for another day). Jesus knew that the humble could discern spiritual things: as he said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children” (Matt. 11). No sophisticated, systematic theology required. Really, no theology at all. Just poverty of spirit – definitely not an exclusively Christian trait.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
In the shadow of Covid-19, we can say with certainty that mourning is universal. And even as Christians are able to find comfort and peace in God in times of tragedy, so are people who have different beliefs about Jesus that we do. “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Ps. 34). *This verse contains no footnote.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
This Beatitude reminds me of the tax collector who said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” This man, not the fasting, tithing Pharisee, went home justified. Meekness – and its reward – do not require “right beliefs.”
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Jesus defined righteousness in the parable of the Sheep and Goats: “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you [etc.]?’ “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Anyone who is capable of compassion can hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
The qualities of mercy and peaceableness are certainly not limited to Christians. Many of the most merciful, peaceable people I’ve known were not Christians – and many of the least merciful, peaceable were professing Christians (my guess is, you can say the same).
As for purity of heart…singleness of purpose toward loving and pleasing God…this quality involves a humble willingness to measure ourselves against the life and words of Jesus, and constantly recalibrate our spiritual paradigm whenever we find it off target.
The old me was so sure I was already right, I felt no need to scrutinize my beliefs and actions (I used to humble-brag about how fortunate I was to be born into the best country, the best faith tradition, and even the best political affiliation – my family were Nixon Republicans). My breakthrough came when I began to see that people all over the world seek after God, and God’s grace extends to every one of them.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Note that this statement is not “blessed are those who are persecuted because of their beliefs.”
If we are ridiculed for protesting against “election fraud,” that is not persecution. Belief in election fraud is not the pursuit of righteousness.
My young niece in Saudi Arabia had a spiritual awakening at the age of about twelve, and began to perform the ritual prayers of Islam much more consistently than the rest of her family. They teased her relentlessly for her desire to worship God. That is persecution because of righteousness.
Peter and Cornelius
Next to Jesus’ parables and miracles, the story of the Roman centurion Cornelius (Acts 10) may be the most telling.
Although Cornelius was not a Jew (i.e. he did not worship God “by the Book”), God took note of his faith: “your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God.”
Peter explained, “In every nation, he that fears [God] and works righteousness is accepted with Him.” Fearing God, working righteousness – these are God’s criteria.
Bottom line: God looks at the heart, and where He finds worship and faith and love, that person is on the right path. God joins with that person and walks him into the Kingdom. God is obviously less interested in religious correctness than we are.
Side note: over the course of two thousand years, numerous Bible translations, lots of false teachings, and enormous changes in the world, it’s possible that we may have developed some flawed theology. So we should breathe a sigh of relief that God isn’t focused on getting it exactly right.
God rewards those who love much and those who are devoted to God, not wrapped up in their own piety.
Sheep, not goats; Samaritans and tax collectors and centurions and Canaanites and sinners, not Pharisees.
What have you done for “the least of these” lately?
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