Picture of Pastor Carlson

Sermon delivered November 22, 2008 by Pastor Paul Carlson

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the English Standard Version, ESV, unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

The Blessing of Being Different

John 15:14,15

(RealAudio available)

What would it take for you to be happier?  Would it be more money?  Better healthcare?  A better job?  A different boss?

Before November 4, many people in our country believed they needed a certain candidate to win the election, in order for them to be hopeful for the future, or happy for the future.  For those who are still hopeful, will he bring about the changes that people want, for themselves and for the country?  And for those who are not hopeful, well, they’ll just have less to be thankful for on Thanksgiving.  But we’re all wondering what our new leader will be like, and everyone wonders if his leadership will bring about the good the country needs and wants?

That’s exactly what people were wondering when Jesus showed up. Especially after His first missionary tour through the cities and towns and villages of Galilee, thousands of people flocked around Jesus whenever they got the chance.  To say that people were excited was a major understatement.  The stories of the miracles of Jesus raced like wildfire in the imaginations of people.  People dreamed of and hoped for a new government.  They wanted to be free from the hated Romans.

And on this particular occasion, according to Luke’s gospel, in chapter 6, verse 12 and onward, it tells us that Jesus had just spent the whole night in prayer, because that was important for what was to come the next day.  And when morning came, Jesus officially appointed 12 of His closest followers to be the cabinet-in-training for His new government.  Simon got a new name, Petros or Peter, which meant a stone or a little rock.  And then Jesus laid hands on Peter’s brother, Andrew.  And of course, James and John were there, whom Jesus affectionately termed the Sons of Thunder.  And Philip and Bartholomew there as well. Matthew, the converted tax collector, and without a doubt, Thomas was there.  James the son of Alphaeus, as well.  There was the other Simon, a converted zealot.  And the two Judases, one the son of James and the other, well, you know, Judas Iscariot.

And just like our country has been following the news to hear who President-elect Obama is going to appoint to his cabinet, people were anxious to see everything that Jesus was doing.  Was Jesus getting ready to appoint the leaders of His government?  Would a new order be established?  And would there be a better life to come?  The air was so pregnant with expectations that Jesus was the Messiah they longed for.

I invite you to open your Bibles to Matthew, chapter 5, and let’s look at verse 1.

Matthew, chapter 5, and verse 1.  ”Seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him.”

His disciples came to Him because they saw Jesus was getting ready to say something.  It was a common pose of someone who was a teacher.  They taught when they sat, and all his students would sit with him.  And so the disciples must have been very anxious to hear Jesus’ inaugural address of the new kingdom.  And do we have any clue whatsoever as to how the people in general responded?

Look at Matthew 5, verse 17.  Mathew 5, verse 17.  Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”  You see, apparently, at the very beginning of Jesus’ inaugural address, the people were scratching their heads in confusion.  There was a disconnect there between what Jesus was telling them and what they were taught.  Are these the foundation rules of Jesus’ kingdom?  They seem so different from what the Pharisees teach.  They’re different from what we understand Moses’ teaching.  And Jesus had to stop and assure them that He wasn’t doing away with the Old Testament.  But everything He was saying was so radically different for them.

Let’s take a look, for example, at Jesus’ radical description of what really gives happiness to the citizens of this new kingdom.

Let’s look at Matthew, chapter 5, verses 3 thru 10.

And starting with verse 3, Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  The Good News Bible says, “Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor.”  And how did that come across to those who were convinced the kingdom was especially composed of those who were rich and powerful, not poor and weak?  Crazy, that’s how. Just plain nonsense.  Can’t you see the frowns and wrinkles on their foreheads?  I mean, what kind of teaching is this, Jesus? This is a hard saying.

Do you remember what the disciples thought later on when Jesus told them that it was hard for the rich to enter into the kingdom of heaven?  Do you remember that question they asked Jesus?  “Then Lord, who can be saved?”  Who can be saved?  I mean, they believed if you were rich it was because God blessed you, and if God blessed you, that meant you were pretty good.  So the kingdom of heaven only belongs to those who are rich and powerful.

And so Jesus wanted to wake them up to the fact that the subjects of His kingdom don’t think, “God, you really ought to be glad that I’m on your side.”  No.  Instead, they listen to the Holy Spirit and they admit that they don’t have it all together and they need God in order to get things right.

Jesus continued. Look at verse 4.

“Blessed are those who mourn.”  The people of My kingdom are not afraid to mourn when others are full of shallowness and silliness and partying and drunkeness.  Can you guess what the reaction to that was?  Jesus, you can’t be serious!  But He kept right on talking.

And then in verse 5, “Blessed are the meek.”  Whereas the world tends to settle matters by force and by arbitrary authority, My people are to be different from that.  They win by speaking the truth in love.  The people of My Kingdom are gentle and humble, not harsh and arrogant.  Can’t you see the heads shaking?  Not nodding, but shaking in disagreement.

Well, Jesus kept right on talking.

Verse 6.  “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”  And how did that fall on the people’s ears?  To them, being righteous was being obedient to a lot of strict, rigid rules and traditions that just didn’t have any more meaning.  No sense to them.  And most of their obedience was driven by the threat of punishment. But Jesus is talking about a totally new motivation.  And ultimately, it has nothing to do with reward or punishment.  The citizens of My kingdom, Jesus said, hunger and thirst for what’s right because it is right, in and of itself.  And that’s so different from the world.  They have an appetite for right-doing because it’s inherently good.  Right-doing has its own rewards.  But perhaps that just went right over many people’s heads.

Verse 7.  “Blessed are the merciful.”  Those who are part of My Kingdom will show compassion, even to those who hurt and betray them.  Yes, that’s right.  Even to those.  I can imagine Jesus saying, “Since My Father and I are forgiveness personified, I want My people to act like Me.  To think like Me.  To behave like Me.”  But wait a minute, some of those people might have thought.  Didn’t David himself say, “Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!”?  Salvation doesn’t belong to the heathen or the Romans, and surely not to those who offend us.  And Peter might have interjected as well, “Should I forgive my brother up to 3 times?  Okay, just to be generous, up to 7 times, and after that I should bonk him on the head if he keeps offending me?  Jesus, you’re killing me with this stuff.”  Can’t you hear the grumbling among some of, maybe, Jesus’ disciples?

Verse 8.  “Blessed are the pure in heart.”  My people value inner beauty and purity of motives.  Wait a minute, as long as I act right, isn’t that enough? Does God really care about what’s going on in here?  About what I’m thinking?  Yes, He does, said Jesus. My citizens want to be right with God, not simply by compliance to all the outward rules that they’ve memorized, but they want to be right with God on the level of their inner thoughts and attitudes.

Verse 9.  “Blessed are the peacemakers.”  Oh, wait a minute, Jesus.  We’re used to the Roman version of peace, forced upon us to pay their taxes and comply with their government.  The Pax Romana.  So what about these Romans?  Aren’t we just supposed to kill them and wipe them off the face of the earth?  No, My citizens are peacemakers, not aggressive destroyers.  Those who work for peace are my true family.

Verse 10.  “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.”  My citizens, Jesus was telling them, will suffer persecution but I will give them a happiness they couldn’t even imagine.  “In fact,” Jesus might have said, “all these prescriptions for happiness are exactly the opposite from what you’ve learned.”  The kingdom of heaven belongs to those who realize their need for God, not to the proud or the self-sufficient.

God blesses with comfort those who mourn, not those who rejoice in abusing their powers.  The humble and teachable will inherit the earth, not the arrogant or the mighty or those who think they know it all.  And those who are hungry and thirsty for right will be filled, not those who are greedy or self-centered.  It’s the merciful who will be shown mercy.  The pure in heart who will see God, and those who work for peace will be called children of God, and those persecuted because they live for God, they’re going to receive My kingdom.

My guess is that Jesus must have totally blown them out of the water with these declarations in His inaugural address.  They were so different.  It was different than the kinds of things they expected their Messiah to say.  And going even further, it must have been a huge eye-opener that not only what He was saying was different, but that He Himself was different.  In fact, I believe Jesus was telling the future citizens of His kingdom that the only way that they were to be a part of His kingdom was to first realize that He was different from the God they were expecting.

Not like the God the Pharisees taught.  Vindictive, harsh, arbitrary, stern and unforgiving.  Not like the God of Satan’s lies, in other words.  I’m a radically different God, He was telling them, and if you really want to get to know Me and trust Me enough to listen to Me, you’ll know that I love truthfulness, I love doing right because it is right, and I love caring for people.  As Jeremiah 9, verse 24 says, I practice “steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.  For in these things I delight.”  I delight.

And those who are a part of My kingdom, those who admire and appreciate Me for who I am, will freely desire to be like Me.  That’s how they’ll be different from the world around them.  And that means that it’s not enough to say that we’re Christians.  It’s not enough to be a member of the church.  But where is the real action?  Where’s the heart of the matter?  It’s simply this.  Do we love and admire our God so much that we want to listen to Him, and be like Him?  Do we?

Later on, Jesus said something else very radical to His disciples, as we read in our scripture reading, John 15, verse 15.  “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant doesn’t know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you.”  What word is Jesus using to describe the relationship that He wants to have with us? Friendship.  That’s radical.  For the God of the universe to say, “I want you to understand me.  I want us to be friends.  Friends understand each other, and beat with the same heartbeat, and have the same values and love with the same love.”  And if we want to be more than just servants who don’t know what our Master is telling us, we’ll acquaint ourselves with everything that Jesus has shared with us.  We’ll read His word and become familiar with the evidence that God would have us to know and understand, and we’ll become friends.

And when we read God’s word, we won’t just read it for the rules and the commandments and the traditions and the customary things that we do.  That’s a servant, who does all of those things without meaning and without thought as to the reason why.  Instead, we’ll ask ourselves, what does this tell me, in God’s word, about the God of the universe Himself?  What does He value, and what do I admire about God?  Do I follow what He’s saying merely because of a desire for reward or a fear of punishment?  That’s what servants want.  Or do I like to do what He tells me because it’s right, and I agree with it?

As I’ve shared before, I grew up with a grandfather who used force and fear to back up his words.  One time I remember looking forward to a special day.  I don’t remember exactly how old I was.  I think I was about 9 years old, and we lived near the Santa Cruz bay.  Not far from it, and my grandfather loved boats, and he had a boat that was rigged for deep sea fishing.  So on this day, he was going to take all of us boys, 4 of us, out on the Pacific ocean with him.

I remember feeling very excited about it.  I was even celebrating by playing some of my music records on a phonograph that played only one speed, the old 45 rpm type.  Now, I admit, and I’m pretty sure that it wasn’t the kind of music that my grandfather liked.  But I was in my room with the door closed.  However, to add insult to injury, the phonograph had only one volume.  It didn’t even have a volume control on it.  It came that way.  One volume, according to my Grandpa, loud.  And he very quickly got tired of it.  On this day, he lost his patience and he laid down the law that I could not go with them on the boat trip, because I was playing my music too loud.  My grandma, the sort of the intercessor in the family, said, “But, it has no volume control on it.”  Didn’t matter.  No understanding.  No patience.

Several years later, when I became a Christian, I went to a Christian college and I learned some very wonderful things about God, that He was so different from all of the authority figures of my life.  And the more I learned that God is not the kind of person His enemies have made Him out to be, arbitrary, unforgiving and severe, the more I learned those things, the more I desired to trust Him and to listen to Him.  And I read Jesus words, “If you have seen Me, you have seen the Father.”  And I realized that God is just as loving and trustworthy as His Son.  Just as willing to forgive and heal as Jesus.  I read about a God who is not only infinite in majesty and power, but also equally gracious and respectful.  In Jesus, I discovered a God who treats us with dignity.

And the more I learned, the more I desired to love and trust Him and admire Him for who He is.  And I learned that really, the greatest blessing when we are different from the world is not that we’re different from the world so much that we have a different God.  A different God.  The more I learned, the more I wanted to tell others about Him, and that’s what I want, don’t you?  To tell others about Him?  And most of all, I want to be like Jesus.  Wouldn’t you like to be more like Jesus?

Let’s sing our closing song, “I Would Be Like Jesus”.

 Hymn of Praise: #557, Come, Ye Thankful People, Come
Scripture: John 15:14,15
Hymn of Response: #311, I Would Be Like Jesus

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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 11/25/08