James Meehan - What Does It Mean to Be Blessed?
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So here's the question. What does it mean to be blessed? What does it mean to be blessed? If you were to ask Instagram this question, I did this recently, I typed in #blessed on Instagram and I found a lot of pictures and captions that portrayed all of these lives that were defined by riches, by popularity, by power. I saw all these people celebrating their fresh new J's. acing the test, making the team, getting the brand new car, dating the person who's pretty and popular. But if you were to ask Jesus who he calls blessed, what's interesting is it seems like you would get a vastly different answer. Because based off of what we just read, according to Jesus, blessed are those who are poor, those who mourn, those who are meek, people that are crying out for justice, the merciful, the pure in heart, the peacemakers and the persecuted. Based on every measure of success, the people that Jesus calls blessed are those that our world would often see as less than.
So here's the question. What does it mean to be blessed? Because I think it's really interesting how different Jesus's understanding of being blessed is than our modern worlds. And so I was having a conversation with fellow Bible nerd and one of our youth pastors, Zach Tsai out at our Life Church Midwest city location. And he was talking to me about the Greek word that's translated into blessed, is a word called makarios, makarios. And this word can also be translated into things like happy, fortunate, favored, and privileged. And so I was like, okay, maybe if I start putting those other words into what Jesus is saying, that will help me better understand what it means to be blessed. So, here's how it works if we take those words and put them into what Jesus just said. Jesus is saying, hey, happy are the poor, fortunate are those who mourn, favored are the meek, privileged are those cry out for justice.
Hopefully you're noticing that there's a problem because this makes no sense according to the way we view blessing in our world today. And I think what's important for us to recognize is that this disconnect between what Jesus is saying and what all of us believe and have experienced isn't just something that shocks us in our modern the world. As a matter of fact, to Jesus's original audience, these words of blessing would have been called offensive. Like just imagine being a Jewish citizen in the first century. You are a member of Israel, God's chosen nation. But the problem is, is that your entire world has been dominated by Roman oppression, right? Like you're the people of God, but all you've ever known is Roman occupation and empire that in just about every single way stands opposed to the things of God. An empire that believes might makes right. That if you've got the power, then you are the man or woman of the hour. An empire that in almost every single way only values and elevates those with status, wealth and power. An empire that sees everyone else as less than.
Can you imagine growing up in a world like that? Can you imagine what it would be like trying to reconcile reality with the belief that God is good in that he cares? Like, how do you do that when everything in your world is just giving you more and more reasons to believe that either God doesn't care or God isn't even there? Until one day you hear about this ragged rabbi from Nazareth. This dude who is talking about the kingdom of God is coming on earth as it is in heaven. Now, for the most part, if you were to hear about some rabbi telling ridiculous stories and making ridiculous claims, you probably wouldn't pay much attention to it, but there was something different about Jesus. Because along with the message he was preaching, Jesus was performing miracles. He was healing the sick, he was giving sight to the blind, he's casting out demons.
And there's something about the way he talks and that he teaches that stands in stark contrast to the religious leaders of your world. There's something about Jesus that just communicates integrity and authority and people can't help, but wanting to hear what he has to say and to follow him. And so eventually your curiosity gets the best of you as you hear all these rumors and rumblings that may be just maybe this Jesus is the Messiah, the long awaited chosen one of Israel that your people have been waiting for. The one that was chosen and foretold by God, that they would deliver the people of Israel from the Roman empire and restore your nation to its former glory. Could Jesus be this person? Because he came preaching and proclaiming that the kingdom of God had come near.
And so you go with the rest of the crowds that are gathering from all around the countryside to listen to what this Jesus has to say. And so this Jesus sits down on a mountain and he begins to teach. And here's what he says. He says, "Blessed are the poor, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek," and I can just imagine being in that audience, sitting down and listening to Jesus and thinking, bro, I'm not blessed. My life is the definition of oppressed. I've been pushed down by the Roman empire. I've had tax collectors take advantage of me. And I can't even worship in the temple of God because the religious leaders have so corrupted it. How dare you call us blessed? You don't know what it's like. But what's crazy is that by the time Jesus finishes teaching, the crowd will be amazed because he spoke like nobody else had spoken before.
So what does it mean to be blessed? Well, it has something to do with being happy, fortunate, favored, and privileged. But based off of the list that Jesus has given us, it kind of seems like what he's saying doesn't at all line up with reality. So, what is it that he's trying to do? I think that's the next logical question that we should probably be asking, right? Like, why is Jesus beginning this sermon with this list of blessings that makes no sense at all. I think what Jesus is trying to do is paint a picture of what the world is like when God is in charge. Jesus is trying to show us what when heaven and earth come together, society is shaped like. A place where those who are the least, the last and the lost are called blessed.
I think Jesus is trying to comfort some of us to confront others of us and to commission all of us. He's trying to comfort those of us who have been pushed down by our modern culture. He wants us to recognize that life in the kingdom of God is built on a bedrock of blessing. To help us understand that the very foundation of God's kingship, the very foundation of his rule is built on blessing, on grace and on love on things that we don't deserve and that we cannot earn. You see, when Jesus is laying out this vision for heaven on earth, he begins with blessing because it's not a list of how tos, but it is an announcement of good news. And I think these lists of blessings are good news to people who are desperate for it. I think they're good news for people like Destiny who read the scripture to us earlier. Because the thing you have to know about Destiny is that her life has not at all been easy. For the majority of her life, her family has struggled financially to the point where when Destiny was in the seventh grade, she actually spent an extended period of time in a homeless shelter because they had lost their home.
And then when she was old enough to get a job, she started working to help provide financial support for her family and to take care of her younger siblings. And like by every measure of our world, it would be so easy to see Destiny's life and say that she is a victim. But if you were to ask destiny, I don't think that that's what she would tell you. I think that she would tell you she's blessed because she has a home in the kingdom of God that through this faith that she has given her life to, she's found her people, she's found a place to belong and a purpose that is so much bigger than whatever she could have imagined before this. She would be able to tell you that the tragic and difficult experiences she's walked through have helped her learn, develop, and grow so that she can have compassion and empathy for other people who are struggling.
And this is exactly what Jesus wants all of us to recognize. That life in the kingdom of God is built on a bedrock of blessing. This is why he begins this manifesto of what life according to God's will is supposed to look like with blessing, after blessing, after blessing. He does it to comfort some of us and to confront others of us. Because the thing about the kingdom of God is that the values of God's kingdom are radically different from the values of our culture. Our culture is all about, hey, are you rich? Are you powerful? And are you famous? But Jesus says, blessed are those who are poor, who mourn and who are meek. I think what Jesus wants to do here is to confront people like me, people who have grown up with relatively easy and comfortable lives.
So, I am born and raised here in the United States of America. My family is an upper middle-class family. My dad's a doctor. And for the most part, my life has been pretty easy and comfortable. I made good grades in school. I had good friends. I was decently athletic. I'm now married to my wife, Mandy, who is amazing, compassionate, gentle, who brings the best out of me. We've got a seven month old son, Jace Quatro. Who's the cutest kid you could ever imagine. We just bought like our first house. Like we're so excited to be able to have our own place that we're not renting anymore. I've got a great job where I get to speak to students across the country and around the world to help them stand who Jesus is. Like on almost every measure that our culture calls blessed, you can check the box. But who does Jesus call blessed? Not people like me.
And I think this is so important for those of us who have had lives like mine that are comfortable, that are easy, that are privileged. That life in the kingdom of God is not defined by the values of our culture but it's defined by the values of God's kingdom, where those who have been pushed aside, who have been passed over are called blessed. I think what Jesus wants to do is to confront those of us who are comfortable in our culture with the reality that the more comfortable we are, the less we will actually crave God's kingdom. And this is so important for us to wrap our minds around. There's this moment later on in Jesus's ministry where this dude who's really rich and wealthy comes to Jesus and says, "Hey, what do I have to do to inherit eternal life"? And Jesus says, "Go and sell everything you have. Give it to the poor and then come and follow me".
And this man walks away sad because he had a lot of things. And so then Jesus turns to his followers and he says, "Man, I'll tell you what, it is really hard for the rich to enter into the kingdom of heaven". Truly yeah, I tell you, it is more difficult for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven than it is for a camel, the animal, to fit through the eye of a needle, right? Like the loop at the end of the needle for sewing.
Jesus is trying to paint this picture to shock his audience into the recognition that the more comfortable we are in our culture, the less we will crave God's kingdom. That for those of us who have had easy and privileged lives, if we are not aware of our need for God's kingdom, then we will miss out on the calling that God has extended to every single one of us. Jesus begins the sermon on the mountain. These three chapters of clearly defining for others, what it looks like when God is in charge with blessing after blessing, after blessing, why? Because he wants to comfort some of us and he wants to confront others of us. And I think he wants to commission all of us. He wants to invite us to be a part of this mission that he is on. Bringing blessings of God to every corner of creation. Jesus wants to invite us to be a part of a kingdom where the last become first, where the least become most and where the lost are found.
I heard this really great story recently about a pastor named Tony, who was traveling from Ohio to Honolulu, Hawaii for a speaking engagement. And he arrived late at night and he was jet lagged. And so at two o'clock in the morning, dude's hungry. So, he leaves his hotel and goes to look for someplace to eat because this isn't a time where there's not Google Maps or Uber, or like DoorDash. So he's gotta go and walk and find a place to eat. After about an hour of walking, he comes across this 24/7 diner. He walks inside, places an order and a few minutes later, nine women enter this restaurant. And very quickly, Tony realizes that these nine women are prostitutes, that they work the streets around this diner to make ends meet. And they're talking really loudly. And they're that level of tired and tipsy where everything is funny, even when it's not.
And he overhears one of the women say, "Tomorrow's my 39th birthday". One of her friends says, "That's crazy. Should we throw you a birthday party"? And she turns to her friend and says, "I've never had a birthday party before now, so why start"? And they laugh, but Tony doesn't because his heart breaks. So after the women leaves, he goes up to the cook and he says, "Hey, do you know them"? And the cook says, "Yep. They come in at 3:30 every morning like clockwork". "And then the woman whose birthday's tomorrow, do you know who that is"? The cook says, "Yes, that's Agnes". So Tony asks the cook this question, "What do you think if we threw her a birthday party"?
The cook is a little bit surprised, but reluctantly, he agrees. And so Tony says, "Don't worry. All you've gotta do is make sure that we can throw the party here. I'll get all the decorations, I'll get the cake. And I'll be here an hour early tomorrow so that we can get everything set up". So at 2:30 in the morning the next day, Tony arrives at this diner. He's got decorations and a birthday cake. And as he walks in, he is surprised because this diner is packed wall to wall with prostitutes because the cook was getting the word out that we're celebrating Agnes's birthday. And these people wanted to be a part. So at 3:30 in the morning, when Agnes and her friends arrive, they are greeted with a roaring, happy birthday! And they began to sing happy birthday to Agnes. And when they finish singing, Agnes just stops. She speechless. Tears are running down her face.
She looks at this cake with 39 candles on it. And she says, "I know this is the part where I'm supposed to blow the candles out and everybody's supposed to get a piece, but I've never had a birthday cake before. So would it be okay if I take this home, put it in my freezer so that I can look at it from time to time and remember this moment"? And in that moment, the mood changes really quickly from celebratory to somber. People don't know what to say. So, Tony does what pastors do and he prays. And after he says amen, the cook looks at Tony almost a little bit offended and says, "I didn't know you were a preacher. What kinda church do you belong to"? And Tony looks at the cook and he says, "I belong to the kind of church that throws birthday parties for strangers and prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning. It's called the church of Jesus Christ. And everybody is invited in".
This is a story about what life is like when Jesus is king. This is a story about what life is like when we as his followers choose to live as kingdom people. When we allow these blessings to comfort those of us who are desperate for comfort. When we allow these words to confront those of us who are comfortable in our modern world. When we've recognized that what Jesus is doing is he is commissioning us to be a part of his plan to bring blessings to all the world. When we recognize that the kingdom of God is a place where the last become first, the least become most and the lost are found. This is what it looks like when Jesus is king.
N.T. Wright, who is a historian and theologian says it this way. He says, "This is what it looks like today when Jesus is running the world. This is after all, what he told us to expect. The poor in spirit will be making the kingdom of heaven happen. The meek will be taking over the earth so gently the powerful won't notice until it's too late. The peacemakers will be putting the arms manufacturers out of business. Those who are hungry and thirsty for justice will be analyzing government policy and legal rulings and speaking up on behalf of those at the bottom of the pile. The merciful will be surprising everybody by showing that there is a different way of doing human relationships than being judgemental and eager to put everyone else down. Jesus was announcing a program yet to be completed. He was inviting his heroes then and now to join him in making this happen. This is quite simply what it looks like when Jesus is enthroned". Will you pray with me?
Heavenly Father, I thank you so much that we get to be a part of a community of believers that are committed to seeking after you with every part of who we are, our hearts, souls, minds, and strengths. And we thank you that you came announcing a kingdom that is good news, a place where all are welcomed, where all are accepted, where we are seen and loved by you.
And what I know is that right now, there are probably some of you as you're hearing this message that you realize you're desperate for good news, that maybe you've been a part of church for a while, or this is the first time you've shown up in ever and you realize that this is a place that you wanna call your home. And not only that, you wanna be a part of helping other people find their homes in the kingdom of God as well. You wanna be a person who lives according to the values of God's kingdom, not the values of our culture and you want God's help to do that. If that's you, would you raise your hand, type it in the chat, leave a comment down below so that I can pray for all of us to live into the values of God kingdom.
Heavenly Father, we thank you that you have called people like us to be a part of your mission of bringing blessing to all the world. God, I pray for every single one of us that we would be so invested in this community of believers, so invested in your kingdom, that we would know this is a place we can belong, that we would discover who it is you've made us to be and that we would participate in the calling that you've created us for to make a difference here in this world and in the lives of others. God give us wisdom and give us the discipline to do the work of pursuing you day in and day out.
Still in an attitude of prayer, what I know is that there's likely others of you, that you're hearing this message, you're hearing about this person named Jesus and you're intrigued, but you're still not sure what to do with it. What I hope you'll understand is that Jesus came for people like you. Jesus came for people with questions. He came for people that had been hurt. He came for people that weren't sure where they belonged or if they even mattered. But the good news of the gospel, the good news of the Christian story is that in the beginning, God created everything as an act love. He created you and he created me in his image so that we could be in relationship with him for all of eternity. But the problem is is that all of us we've sinned, we've done things that hurt ourselves, others and the heart of God. And that sin created a separation between us and him. That sin is the cause of every wrong thing in our world today.
But by the grace of God, God was not okay with that problem continuing to exist. So he set a plan in motion to reunite us to him and that plan took the form of God becoming man, that man was named Jesus. He walked on this earth 2000 years ago. He lived a perfect life. And then he was sacrificed on a cross so that anybody who puts their trust in God would be saved. And the thing is, is that Jesus did not stay dead. As a matter of fact, he conquered death, he conquered sin, he conquered the devil so that all of us could be made new, we could be made whole, and we could be invited into God's plan to make a difference. And I believe that's exactly why you're here right now, to say yes to the grace of Jesus, to step into a relationship with your heavenly Father, to turn from your sins and to turn towards him.
If that's you and you're saying, "Yes, I want a relationship with God. I want to be made new", Jesus today I give you my life, then lift your hand right now. All over the place if that's you, and you're saying Jesus today I'm turning to you. Type it in the chat, click on the link, let us know about that choice. Because in this moment you are becoming a new person, no longer defined by the sin of your past, but defined by God's love for you. And as people are making this decision, typing it in the chat, clicking on the link. We as a Switch family want to pray with you because even though you had to make that choice on your own, you don't have to pray alone because this is a family. So, altogether out loud, repeating after me:
Heavenly Father, forgive me. I'm turning from my sin. I'm turning towards you. I need your love. I need your grace and I need your mercy. Today, I give you my life. In Jesus name amen and amen and amen.