Do you bear marks of a blessed man? – A 10 min mini-sermon I prepared during preaching week at college. I thought I’d just post here. Reading’s from Matthew 5:1-16 (ESV)
As a Chinese coming from Singapore, we have a unique tradition only practiced by us and the Malaysians during Chinese New Year. We do something called “lou hei”. This means to mix up our prosperity and increase it. This whole tradition is meant to embody the blessings and prosperity that one would get throughout the year. It’s essentially a glorified sweet and sour salad. If you order it at a restaurant, it is a very elaborate service dishing out this plate of vegetables. As the waitress plates it up, with each spice and sauce is accompanied with some words of prosperity and blessing. The blessings range from good health to good studies to harmony and usually ends with lots of wealth and prosperity. As you can see, to the Chinese who started this, the blessings and prosperity are highly valued and sort after. This is then measured visibly by the kind of house one has, the kind of car he drives and the type of job he holds and how apparently prosperous and blessed he is. The 5 Cs we call it. Car, Cash, Condo, Career, Credit Card. Today we get to look at Jesus’s version of “lou hei” blessings and the 5 Cs. More like nine Bs an S and an L.
In today’s passage, Jesus is addressing a crowd of his followers and he’s laying out the hallmarks of what a follower of his looks like. Since most of them are blessings, let’s call him the “blessed man”. In short, Jesus describes the blessed man from a few angles. Jesus starts off with the inside. The Nature of the blessed man. The first four blessings from verses 3 to 6. He then expands that to the out-workings of the blessed man. His actions. The next 3 blessings from verses 7 to 9. And finally he describes how the world interact with the blessed man. And how much of a contrast this blessed man will be against it. This takes us to the rest of the passage today.
We can go into quite a lot of detail for each blessing, but with only 10 mins for the talk, we only have time to do broad brush strokes. Let’s begin with the blessed man’s nature. What’s inside him. Matthew 5:3-6. Here Jesus describes attributes like poor in spirit, meekness, mourning and hunger and thirsting for righteousness. It’s a person’s attitudes and nature that Jesus is describing. If you string them together, the running theme is an inward perception change of your inner self towards God’s kingdom. First, you realise you are poor in spirit and completely in need of God. You practice self-control in meekness. You mourn for the lost around you and you hunger for righteousness to come. Notice here that the second purpose of the blessings are to create a certain hope of the endgame. The eventual fulfilment of the hunger, or comfort or reward. More on this later.
Next from the nature of the blessed man inside, Jesus shifts outside to his actions as he interacts with the world. The next three verses (Matt 5:7-9). He is merciful, always seeking purity in heart and a peacemaker. He deals in compassion, has a zeal towards holiness and usually mediates fights instead of picking them. Because of his constant drive towards holiness, to be pure in heart, the blessed man can be seen in action by his mercy and peacemaking efforts.
Lastly, we zoom way out and we see the blessed man against the backdrop of the world. And against this backdrop, the blessed man is meant to be seen in contrast to the world. Jesus explains 3 types of contrast. He spends a bit more time explaining each. First, embedded in the last two blessings, is the topic of persecution. Matthew 5:10-11. You know Jesus is getting serious about the matter when he changed from the third person to directly addressing the audience. It’s his “listen up” moment. As if it’s not strange enough he is blessing the persecuted in verse 10, in verse 11, he repeats it by saying “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you”. Just to make sure they heard it. In Matthew 5:12, he then gives an encouragement on top of the blessing to ask them to “rejoice and be glad for the reward is great in heaven”. A directed-repeat, a blessing and an encouragement. Three rounds!! We know that persecution is serious matter to Jesus and he is warning us that in contrast to the world, the blessed man will be persecuted. Next comes Salt to the earth and light to the world (Matt 5:13-16). Salt is a preservative and it brings flavours out of food. Jesus is basically saying we are to be like salt. Preserving and slowing the decay process and bring goodness out of people around us. The alternative? Unsalty salt. Again, he’s addressing a crowd of followers, NOT unbelievers! Here he’s warning against ineffective supposed converts. Harsh words!! He says for they are “to be thrown out and trampled on”. Same with the light. Jesus is saying it is impossible for someone that follows me to not shine. Impossible!! It makes no sense! Like the city on the hill or a lamp in the house. It is impossible to not shine.
So how does these relate to the modern day Christian? To the really devoted follower in the time of Jesus, his sermon so far seems to be impossible to achieve. How will they ever – inherit the earth, get the Kingdom of heaven, see God, receive mercy, be comforted – at all? Of course in the next few verses Jesus hints to them the answer that it is indeed possible through him who is here to fulfil the law. But for us, present day Christians, the difference is we have this assurance of salvation because we have the completed redemption plan picture through Jesus’s death. In fact, we have no excuse unlike Jesus’s followers 2000 years ago on the mountain. They may not fully understand how they can ever achieve what Jesus is demanding. He could have said, “I will die and resurrect and do all the justifying. You just sit back and relax!” He didn’t. Instead, he says brace for impact. This is how a follower of mine looks like through today’s passage. For us as the modern day follower of Jesus, we now know we are called Sons of God. People who are going to see God and inherit the earth and the kingdom of God. We know we are waiting in this certain hope. For now until that time, we are his representatives. And as representatives, we are to live looking like this blessed man.
So let’s conclude. Jesus says from the inside out, my follower knows he is spiritually bankrupt. He mourns as I do for the lost. He is meek. He longs for righteousness. He shows mercy when others wrong him. He seeks holiness through purity. He lives in harmony as a peacemaker with others. And if he is and does all these things, he WILL naturally and surely bear marks of persecution because he’ll rub against the world. He should be the goodness that holds decay together and brings out the best in people. He can’t help himself but be the light among dark and sinful situations and places. Friends, if we call ourselves followers of this Jesus. Do we bear any resemblance to this blessed man that Jesus has painted before us? When the world look at us, can they see this blessed man to persecute? Do they cling onto us because we are so salty we bring out the best in them? Do we stand out in sinful and dark situations? I pray we will never be dim and indistinguishable. I pray hard that we never feel un-persecuted!
Thoughts? Constructive criticisms? Comments? Always happy to sharpen the skill.