Francis Chan wrote in his book, Crazy Love: “Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at things in life that don’t really matter.”
That quote is worth pondering as we begin this new year. Many of us have undoubtedly set goals for ourselves this year, consisting of various things like: how many miles we want to run, or how many pounds we want to lose, or like my son David, how many books he wants to read this year. And those things can be good; do not get me wrong.
But did you know that GOD has a goal for your life? And He has one goal for you this year that is more important than any other. In fact, it is your life goal. And we find it in Romans 8:29: “For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren.”
Many people quote Romans 8:28, that God causes all things to work together for good for those who love Him — and that is absolutely true. But when we quote that verse, we often seem to intimate that He is working all things together for some nebulous, generic “good” which we may not really understand. But we need to read “the rest of the story”! In that next verse, Romans 8:29, God TELLS us just what the good is that He is working all things together for in our lives: it is not some “mysterious, unknown” good, but He is working all things together for this one specific purpose: that we might be “conformed to the image of His Son” (highlight that, underline that in your Bible!) — that is, God is working everything together to conform us to His image — to make us like Jesus Christ.
So that is God’s goal for your life. You can have every confidence, based upon that scripture, that is His goal for your life this year is for you to become more like Jesus.
Now, when we say that God wants to make us more like Jesus, we need to be sure that we understand what is meant by that. That God wants to make us more like Jesus does NOT mean that He wants us to grow long beards and go around in sandals and long robes. He is not talking about us becoming PHYSICALLY like Jesus, but in our CHARACTER. He wants us to be like Him in the character qualities that we demonstrate in our lives.
Well where do we find this character in scripture? You’d think if this was really important — if it was really God’s goal for every one of our lives as His followers — you’d think that God would have put it somewhere very prominently in His word. And He has! You would expect that if God put something in the first words, of the first sermon of Jesus, in the first book of the New Testament, that those words would be incredibly important — and you would be right. What God put there: in the first words, of the first sermon of Jesus, in the first book of the New Testament, are incredibly vital words: they give us the character of the citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven that God wants us all to have: and more than that, they actually portray for us the character of the Person of Jesus Christ Himself!
I want us to begin to look this morning by way of introduction at the Book of Matthew, chapter 5:3-12, at the passage of scripture often called: “The Beatitudes.” These verses are called the “Beatitudes” because each of the verses in this section begin with the word, “Blessed” and “beatitude” means “blessedness.” But we need to understand that these are not merely 8 different qualities of people who happen to be blessed, but together they form for us one of the most important sections of scripture in all the word of God, for they picture for us the character of Jesus Christ — and the 8 character qualities that it is God’s goal to build into every one of our lives this year.
I. Their Nature: Character Qualities, NOT just “actions”
One of the things we need to see about the qualities that are found here is that they are not “outward actions”, but inward character qualities.
Much has been made of the symbolism of Jesus going to the mountaintop here. 5:1 says “When Jesus saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain” – that’s why we call this “The Sermon on the Mount” – He preached it on a mountain. Well, there was another great character in Bible history who went up on a mountain, wasn’t there? Moses! Moses was THE great figure of the Old Testament. He went up on Mount Sinai and God gave him the 10 Commandments – the basis of the Law of the Old Testament. Many of those commandments were, at least on the surface, outward, external acts of obedience: don’t worship other gods; don’t make images; obey your parents; don’t kill, don’t commit adultery, don’t steal, etc. They were primarily a list of things to “do” – or NOT do!
But now Jesus comes in the New Testament, climbs another mountain, and gives us another revelation from God, and while He Himself says later in this sermon, “I did not come to destroy the Law, but rather to fulfill it”, what He gives us here is more than a “Law”, with commands of outward deeds and acts of obedience – notice the SPIRITUAL nature of the qualities here: for example, the first one is “poor in spirit” – right off the bat, Jesus is commending not just an outward act, but an inward, spiritual quality. We’ll talk about what being “poor in spirit” means next week, but it is an inward, spiritual quality which is vital for every believer. The second one is “mourning” – again, that is an inward quality. It may express itself in some outward ways, but it is something that comes from the heart. And so it is with each of these qualities (until you come to “persecuted”, which is the response of the world to the person who has these qualities). What Jesus gives us here is not a “Law”; it is not a “weekly assignment list” of activities to check off. These are heart qualities that God wants to build into each of our lives.
God’s purpose for you is not that you keep up a list of legalistic activities. His goals for you are spiritual, of the heart. God said in Jeremiah, “I the Lord search the heart; I test the mind.”
That’s one of the things we need to keep in mind as we begin our discipleship class MasterLife next Sunday night. Each week those of us in the class will have a brief lesson, and we will also have daily assignments: to read our Bibles, and memorize a verse, and so on. And these things are GOOD spiritual disciplines — we studied the importance of “The Disciplines of Disciples” last spring. But we also need to realize that what God is doing in your life can’t always be measured objectively on a piece of paper or turned in on a report form. It is not the number of chapters you read, or visits you make, or money you give. God is not looking for numbers from you; He is looking at your heart. And that is what these eight qualities in the Beatitudes address; they not merely external activities; they are spiritual, internal, of the heart.
As many of you know, our Romanian pastor and his wife have a daughter, Sara Berci, who visited us this summer. Sara had a great post on Facebook last Monday morning: she wrote that her goal for the New Year was to be kind and gentle. And she wrote it neatly on a chalkboard and took a picture of it, and made it her cover photo on Facebook. (SHOW SLIDE) When I saw that I thought, what a good goal that is, for several reasons. And one of the most important is that it is not a “numerical” goal like so many of us set for ourselves: to run so many miles, or save so much money, or lose so many pounds. Rather it is a character goal: she wants to BE this kind of person.
And that is similar to God’s goal for US this year as well. God’s most important goal for you this year is not to lose 25 pounds. Now, losing 25 pounds would surely be good for some us — me included! — but losing a certain number of pounds is not God’s most IMPORTANT goal for you. God’s most important goal for your life in 2016 does not have anything to do with numbers — it has to do with your HEART: He wants your character to be conformed to the image of Christ! And the description of that character is found for us right here in Matthew 5:3-12.
II. Their Composite
Now a lot of people, when they approach the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-12, do it assuming that these are just a list of 8 different qualities that God says that He will bless, and that they don’t necessarily have anything to do with each other. To them, it is just like God has almost randomly singled out these qualities and said, “I’ll bless the one who is poor in spirit over here; and I will bless the mourner over there; and the meek one over there”, etc. – as if they are just 8 qualities of 8 different people that God blesses.
But that is to miss the real point of these qualities. God does bless the bearer of these qualities, but they are more related than that. They are not just 8 independent qualities – of which you might “pick one” and say, “I’ll be THAT kind of person.” These all relate to each other; one naturally flows into the next, as we shall see over the next weeks. And more than that, when you take these together, they form a picture: of the ideal citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven. Notice that “the kingdom of heaven” is prominent in these qualities: these 8 begin and end with “theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus is saying: THIS is what the ideal citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven is like. HERE is the goal; THIS is what you are shooting for. THIS is what I want you to look like. THIS is what I am going to “cause everything to work together” in your life to make you like.
But when you examine these qualities, you find that not only are they the composite picture of the ideal citizen of the Kingdom in “theory” – they also form a picture of THE ideal citizen of the Kingdom Himself, Jesus Christ.
A few years ago, if you were climbing up one of the Arbuckle Mountains in south central Oklahoma, you might, as you were climbing, have stumbled upon a good-sized rock. If you looked down, you would have seen that there was another rock right by it, and another by it, although you couldn’t really make out what they were there for. But if you were a couple of miles away, driving north on I-35, which ran by those mountains, you could see what each of those individual rocks were there for. They were not there by accident; someone had put them there. And from a distance you could see that together they formed several letters: J-E-S-U-S. These were not just a bunch of assorted rocks that happened to be there – they were all placed there by a purposeful hand, and spelled out the Name: “Jesus”!
In much the same way, when you study the qualities in Matthew 5, you begin to see that these are not just 8 separate character qualities that have nothing to do with each other. They are like puzzle pieces that fit together and form a picture of the character of Jesus Christ Himself! In his book on the Beatitudes in 1955 called: The Secret of Happiness, Billy Graham wrote: “Jesus Christ is the perfect man of the Beatitudes.” The character qualities we find described here are the character qualities of Jesus. As we study these qualities over the next weeks, you will see how Jesus exemplifies every single one of these qualities. He was “poor in spirit” – totally dependent upon God. He “mourned” over sin. He was totally “meek” – that is, submissive to the Father’s will. He “hungered & thirsted for righteousness” even more than for His daily food. He was merciful: He saw needs, felt compassion, and did something about it. He was “pure in heart” – “tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin”. And He was the ultimate peacemaker, who brought man and God together through His death on the cross. And He was persecuted only because of His righteousness. The 8 qualities we find here in the Beatitudes are the character of Jesus Christ.
I like to say that God has, with 8 “Master brush strokes” painted for us a perfect portrait of the character of Jesus Christ. We don’t know what Jesus looked like physically — and it’s probably good that we don’t, so we don’t make an idol out of the picture. But we do know what Jesus “looked like” in His character — we see it throughout the Gospels, and it is summarized for us here in the Beatitudes. These are not just 8 isolated random character qualities; together they form a composite picture of the character that God wants to build into our lives — the character of Jesus. Jesus is “the perfect man” – and as we have seen, God’s goal for you and I is for us to become like Him. As Romans 8:28-29 says that God is working all things together that we might become “conformed to the image of His Son.” Ephesians 4:13 says our goal is to “attain to … a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” The composite picture we find in Matthew 5:3-12 is a portrait of the character qualities of Jesus Christ which it is God’s most important goal to build into every one of our lives in 2016.
III. Their Measure of Real Success
Because these qualities portray God’s goal for our lives, they become for us our ultimate measure of success. One of the problems that many of us have today — perhaps MOST of us — is that we are shooting for the wrong targets of success.
One of the human drama stories that came out of the 2004 Olympics was the American sharpshooter who just dominated the 50 meter rifle competition. With one shot to go, he had a huge lead. So he lined up his final shot, took aim, squeezed the trigger, and hit the bulls’ eye – on the wrong target! It was a great shot – but since he the wrong target, he plunged from 1st place in the competition to 8th and totally out of the medals. It was so ironic – he hit what he was aiming at, but he was aiming at the wrong target!
That’s such a sad story to me — but what a metaphor for what so many people are in fact doing with their lives! So many of us are going to get to the end of our lives and realize that we’ve been shooting at the wrong target! We’re going to realize when it’s too late, that life wasn’t about how much money you could get; life wasn’t about “who had the most toys”; life wasn’t about how many people like you, or how high you can climb on the ladder of your organization – God’s goal for our lives is becoming conformed to the Image of Jesus Christ.
Sadly, many of us even in the church are missing the target. We are aiming for the wrong goals and measuring ourselves by the wrong standards of success. Sometimes people in the church will try to “pull rank” on others, based on how many years they have attended: “I’ve been a member of this church for 47 years …”, etc. Listen, your “rank” in God’s kingdom doesn’t have anything to do with how many years you have sat in a church pew! Your “rank” in God’s eyes depends on how much like Jesus Christ you are! Are you humble; do you mourn over sin; do you submit to God’s will; are you hungry for righteousness — THAT is God’s measure of your status in the Kingdom: do you look like the picture of Jesus we find in these words?
People in many churches point to what is called the “Baptist B’s” as the measure of our success in church: the number of baptisms, buildings, budgets, and “bottoms” in the pews. But we need to realize that in the end we are not going to be judged as a church by the “Baptist B’s”, but by the Be-Attitudes — how much have we in the church become like Jesus Christ in our character.
That’s why we are beginning this study today, and will continue it over the next 8 or 9 weeks. We need to know what God’s goal for our life is, so that we can start “shooting at the right target.” So let’s read these words; study them together — and I hope you’ll make it a priority to memorize them so you will have them in your heart and mind all year as God builds them into your life. And measure your ultimate success by how like them you become — because that is how GOD is measuring your success!
Many of us need to see our lives in light of these qualities, and what God is trying to do to build them into us. Some of what we think are defeats in our lives, are actually victories, when you understand what God is really trying to accomplish in your life. Some of what we think are the WORST times in our lives, are actually the BEST, because God is using them to bring us closer to His ultimate goal for our lives: to make us more like Christ.
For example, when I graduated from seminary, I anticipated that some great church was going to call me, and I’d be off and “successful” in no time. But I was in for a surprise. Months went by, and I got NO call from any church. In the mean time, we had our first first son, Paul, and we were struggling to make ends meet on a part-time job. It was, until my sickness in Louisiana, the most trying time of our lives. And at one point, of course, I asked God why. And one day in my daily Bible reading, He showed me Romans 8:28-29, and these Beatitudes, and how He was using my difficult circumstances to build those character qualities into my life. I was poor monetarily, but it helped to make me poor in spirit, and dependent upon God. I was mourning over sin in my life, because I didn’t want any sin to come between me and God’s will for my life. I had become more merciful towards others: I used to pray only for my own needs, but I had learned to pray for other seminary students who were in the same situation that I was – and on and on. The bottom line was, that although from a worldly standpoint, this was a time of discouragement and defeat, from a spiritual standpoint, it was one of the greatest times in my life, because God used it to build the character of Christ into my life in a greater way.
It’s the same with what happened to me in Louisiana three years ago. From a worldly standpoint it was a time of defeat: I got sick, I lost my job, my church, our house, many of our possessions — but from a spiritual standpoint it was, again, one of the best times of growth I have ever had. I depended on God, became more understanding of others, more hungry for righteousness — and so on.
What we need to see is that THIS IS HOW GOD MEASURES “SUCCESS.” God doesn’t measure “success” by how much money we have, or how big our church is, or how “popular” we are, or how nice our house or car is. He measures our real success by how much like Jesus we are becoming — and He will gladly sacrifice any of those other things to work the character of Christ into your life.
Your life may be just like mine. There may have been episodes in your life that have looked to you and others like great defeats — or maybe you are even in a time like that right now. But from God’s perspective, that was NOT a defeat — Just because you lost money, or lost a job, or became unpopular, or suffered physically, or whatever — These things to US look like “defeats”, and the worst things that can happen to us. But God is not counting those things. He is looking at the character He is building in your life. And from His perspective:
— if you have become more dependent upon Him as a result of that situation — it was not a defeat, but a victory.
— If you have become more humble as a result of being in that situation — it wasn’t a defeat; it was a victory.
— If you have learned to mourn your sin — that wasn’t a defeat it was a victory — and so on and so on. Because God doesn’t measure “victories” and “success” the way we do. He measures our real success on how much our character is becoming like Jesus Christ.
What’s important for us today is that we understand what God is doing. It will help you greatly, as you go through these things in life, to know what God’s goal for you is, so that you can “work together with Him” in what He is trying to do in you. Our worldly nature is just to want to “get out” of certain trials we face — but God says, My goal is not just for you to “get out” of that situation — but for you to “get something out of it”: to have one or more of these character qualities of Christ built into your life as a result of what you are going through.
So make no mistake: God’s goal for your life in 2016 may not be what you were thinking. His goal for you this year is not just that you just have a “smooth & easy life” and what a lot of people would call “success.” His goal is for you to become conformed to the character of Jesus Christ. And if that’s so, then we’d better know what that character is, so that we can pray and work together with Him for His purpose in our lives this year. So next Sunday, we’re going to start with #1, the most foundational quality of the Christian disciple, found in Matthew 5:3: “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” But for now, let’s bow our heads together …
— As we bow our heads together, would you think about your goals for this year: and if you haven’t done it already, ask God to help you make HIS goal for your life the most important measure of your success this year: not your money, or your health, but becoming more like Christ in your character.
— Many of us would do well to respond in this invitation by making a commitment to begin memorizing these 8 Beatitudes, so they will be constantly in your heart, so God’s Spirit can use them to build that character into your life. (Get with someone to be accountable; challenge your SS class to memorize them …)
— Some of us need to pray about a life situation you are in, or have been in. There may be an episode in your life you have been thinking was/is a failure — but God is showing you that it was actually a great victory, because He build the character of Christ more into your life. If you’re in a difficult situation right now, pray about how God can use that for His purposes for you.
— Most importantly, you might say, I don’t know that God is working these things in my life like Romans 8 talks about, because I have never really nailed down my relationship with God — and you need to do that today. If you are ready to turn from your sin with God’s help, and trust Jesus as your Savior today, I would love to visit with you and help you do that. Just step forward in just a moment and share that decision with me.
— And as always, if you have someone or something on your heart you want to pray for, the steps of this platform are always open as an altar for prayer, so I hope you’ll come and do that …