Skip Heitzig - Stranger Things
It does indeed. Good morning. Would you turn in your Bibles, please, to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 5. Now while you're turning there, I just want to say that, to a lot of churches, the heart and soul of what goes on in that church happens on Sunday morning. It's a little bit different in this particular church. I would say that the heartbeat is not Sunday morning but, at least for me, Wednesday night. It is where we go through the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. We are right now in the book of 1 Samuel.
So if you have never gone through the Bible that Jesus and the apostles read, which was the Old Testament, we are right at the kingship of Saul, when Saul becomes King of the nation. We're in 1 Samuel, end of chapter 14 into 15, and chapter 16. You who attend go, Yeah right. Like you're going to cover three chapters. But it's been known to happen. Miracles have been known to happen. Nonetheless, that's when we meet, Wednesday night. We invite you out to be a part of that. That is our church's reading plan. Through the Bible. We cover from one cover to the next, or to the last. From the first to the last. And we've done it several times, and we invite you to be part of it. Let's have a word of prayer together.
Father, thank you for gathering us together, which is what we are called to do in the New Testament. Thank you, Lord, that the church is back. That we can be all about the Apostles' doctrine, fellowship, the breaking of bread, and prayers. We now, Lord, turn our attention to you. We believe that you speak through what you have spoken. And we pray that we might learn and, not just be attentive, but be conformed to what your Spirit says to us through this incredible book. In Jesus' name, Amen.
I know you've heard the statement before that truth is stranger than fiction. And so often that is the case, right? There are some things that happen that are just outlandish, bizarre, unexpected, but real, nonetheless. They happen. And there are so many examples of this, but let me give you a few to show you what I mean.
In 1979, a Burger King in the Midwest was broken into, burglarized. And though that, in and of itself, isn't odd, the name of the criminal who broke into the Burger King makes the story interesting. He was 18-year-old Ron McDonald. Right? That's strange, right? How's that for a headline? Ronald McDonald breaks into Burger King.
A year later, in a completely different city, Detroit, Michigan, burglary took place and the burglar was apprehended. His name was Jimmy Carter. 1980. Jimmy Carter was arrested in Detroit for burglary. Not the president, but a man named Jimmy Carter. But that, in and of itself, is sort of strange. But what makes it over the top strange is the name of the arresting officer, who was Richard Nixon. So, when Richard Nixon arrests Jimmy Carter, that's strange.
Here's another one. In Orlando, Florida, in a courthouse, a jury of 12 were on their way to the courtroom to finish out the hearing of a case. As they were on their way to the courtroom they were in the courthouse elevator and the elevator got stuck. So they're trapped in an elevator for 20 minutes. Eventually they get out. They make their way to the courtroom, but they were on their way to hear a case against the Otis elevator company. So do you think the jury was prejudiced when they heard that case? Strange.
And then there was an there was an ad in a newspaper in Wisconsin, Marshfield, Wisconsin, that ran this way. For sale, parachute. Used once, never opened. I'm not going to be buying that parachute. Really strange. Now you've guessed by now, and you know by now if you've been in the series, that this series, Now Streaming, we're taking popular shows that people stream on different platforms. And we're looking at kind of a biblical twist on the name.
Now, I just want to give a disclaimer. We're not recommending any or all of these shows. Some of them I've never heard of. Some of them I have. And I have heard of the one called, "Stranger "Things. And "Stranger "Things is based on the disappearance of a young boy in Indiana in a town that was near a top-secret government lab.
The boy disappears. The police, friends, and family go on a search for the boy. And the strange disappearance of this young boy leads to stranger phenomena, like government experiments and supernatural forces. So it's called, "Stranger Things." Well, with that as an introduction, we are looking at a small section this morning of the Sermon on the Mount. And the Sermon on the Mount, as you probably know, is the best known sermon Jesus ever preached. Everybody knows about the Sermon on the Mount. But it's arguably the least understood sermon that Jesus ever preached.
I would put it this way. The Sermon on the Mount is the greatest sermon ever preached by the greatest preacher who ever lived. But I've never really liked the title, the Sermon on the Mount, to be honest with you. First of all, it's not a biblical title. Jesus does not say, the name of my sermon this morning is the Sermon on the Mount. That's just a name that we have traditionally passed down through history because Jesus spoke it on a little mountain that you can visit in Israel, a little outcropping of a hill. I preached the Sermon on the Mount from that Mount several times with groups in Israel, overlooking the Sea of Galilee.
But the reason I don't like the title is because the title gives you no information about the sermon. That's like me saying the name of my sermon this morning is, the Sermon from the Pulpit. And you're thinking, every sermon is a sermon from the pulpit. So it gives you no information. It's really not as much a sermon on the mount, as it's a mountain of a sermon. In fact, I would give it this title, The Sermon of the Monarch. Because that's what it's about, the kingdom. It's the kingdom of God. It's the King announcing kingdom living to subjects of the kingdom.
Now, this sermon is filled with some strange things. And the people who heard it, they had never heard anything like this before. So, when it was all done, which is the end of chapter 7, the last two verses of chapter 7 read this way. "So it was, when Jesus had ended these sayings, that the people were astonished at his teaching," utterly amazed, blown away by what they heard, "for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes." It was all strange to so many of them who heard him.
Now, much of Jesus' ministry was filled with strange things, strange sermons, sermons about controversial subjects, sermons that got people's emotions going. Conversations that Jesus had, which were sometimes very heated and very intimidating. Miracles that He performed. All of these together were strange the people who observed them. In fact, when Jesus healed a paralytic and told him, your sins are forgiven, we're told "they were all amazed. They glorified God, were filled with fear, saying, we have seen strange things today."
The gospel is filled with strange things. Do you know that unbelievers think you're strange? Right? You figured that out. They think you are weird for what you believe in. You mean to tell me you're saying the whole world is consigned to an eternal hell unless they believe in one guy who died and rose again? That is absolutely absurd to them.
And the Bible says the message of the gospel is foolishness to those who are perishing. When Paul preached that gospel in Athens, at the Areopagus, Mars Hill, and the philosophers were listening to Paul preach, they said you are bringing some strange things to our ears. And so, your friends, your acquaintances, and your family members weren't too happy to hear about your conversion. They weren't when I told them that I was saved. My parents weren't. My friends certainly were not. My brothers didn't like it. And that's because my friends and my brothers sort of knew, from now on, this guy is making the statement that he's going to live a different kind of a life. He's not going to do what he used to do, what we used to do.
Peter speaks about that in 1 Peter chapter 4, "In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you." So it's all strange to outsiders. What I want to do is have you look with me at the first little section of the Sermon on the Mount this morning and I want to show you four strange things, four strange elements about this sermon.
First of all, a Strange Hopefulness. Now let me take you to verse 1, where we read, "and seeing the multitudes,"... Just mark that. There is a crowd. There are huge numbers of people who are watching this. "And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him." Now that you have that in mind, I need you to understand where the multitudes came from, because, we just kind of open up the story and there is a crowd of people. And so, the observer should ask, why is there a crowd of people? And that's because, go back to chapter 4, verse 23, just the last few little verses.
"Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all kinds of sickness and all kinds of disease among the people. Then His fame went throughout all of Syria,"... That's the northern regions above Galilee. "...and they brought to Him all sick people who were afflicted with various diseases and torments, and those who were demon-possessed, epileptics, and paralytics, and He healed them." And what's the result of that? "Great multitudes, " plural. Huge, enormous crowds "followed him from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, and beyond the Jordan." They'd never seen this before. People didn't get healed when they went to church, or synagogue.
And now, all of a sudden, there's this new preacher who has come. And He's saying strange things and doing strange things, healing people, natural law gets suspended. Bodies that naturally deteriorate, congenital anomalies are fixed instantly. Dead people come back to life. So this brought massive crowds with a hope that starts growing in their hearts. I call it a strange hopefulness, and here's why it's strange. They hadn't had hope for hundreds of years. In fact, there had been a hopelessness to all of the people that were living in the land of Israel.
And here's why. The history of the Jewish nation is a history of oppression, occupation, a history of slavery and subservience to other nations. They were slaves for 400 years in Egypt. After that, they got into the promised land for a little while, until 722 BC, when the Assyrians took them captive to their land. But, 586 BC the Babylonians came again and took the rest of them captive to their land. And then, later on, the Syrians, the Selucids, oppressed them.
So, it was like one oppression after another. But in each of those cases God sent them a Savior, a deliver. So they were in Egypt. Who did God send to deliver them from Egypt? Moses. Moses delivered them. He was their savior. He brought them out of Egypt. When they were in Babylonian captivity, God raised up Nehemiah to approach the King and brought a batch of them back into the land. When the Selucids, the Syrians oppressed them, God raised up a guy by the name of Judas Maccabeus. That's not in your Bible. That's between the Old and New Testament.
But now, at this time, New Testament times, there is another oppressor, called Rome. Rome is in charge. Roman rule is bearing down on the vassal state of Israel. They're paying taxes to Rome. They're being told what to do by Roman soldiers. They are feeling hopeless. Until now. Now, hope begins to grow. They've been longing for a deliverer. Maybe this is the one. That hope begins to grow. In fact, there was an ancient prayer that every Jewish person said that went like this, "I believe in the coming of Messiah, and even though he tarries, yet I will wait for him every coming day." I am waiting for a savior, a deliverer, a helper.
Now, chapter 4, verse 23 on, now there is this hope, this messianic longing that is being birthed. And here's what you need to know. The messianic longing is now at fever pitch. If Jews, and they always have, longed for a messiah, if ever there was a time when they super-longed for a messiah, it was right now. Listen to the words of Rabbi Abba Hillel Silver, who writes this, and I'm quoting. "Prior to the First Century, messianic interest was not excessive. The First century, however, especially the generation before the destruction of the Second Temple, witnessed a remarkable outburst of messianic emotionalism. When Jesus came into Galilee, 'spreading the gospel of the Kingdom of God and saying the time is fulfilled' and the Kingdom of God is at hand he was voicing the opinion universally held that the age of the Kingdom of God was at hand.
Listen to his last statement. "The Messiah was expected around the second part, the second quarter, of the first century C.E.," Christian Era. In other words, the expectation that the Messiah would come is happening right now. Now you understand why, when John the Baptist was baptizing at the Jordan River, what was like one of the first questions they asked him. Are you the guy? Are you the Messiah? And he goes, No. There's one coming after me who is the Messiah.
So now there's a preacher. And this preacher can perform miracles and He cures people and hope, it went ballistic. Crowds of people are teeming around Him wherever he goes. Now who's in that crowd? Well, who's in any crowd? It's a mixed bag, right? There were some real disciples, authentic disciples. There were some curious people. They just heard that this guy can do things, and he speaks differently. So, I want to go out and see what he's about.
But then there were people who were part of the crowd who were following Jesus, so to speak, who were really only there for the immediate benefit. Because, I hear he gives free lunch, if you hang around him long enough. And he heals people. So these people saw Jesus as a bread line, a free lunch, a healing line. They saw the immediate benefit. In John, chapter 2, when He is in Jerusalem, we're told "many believed in His name when they saw the signs which He did." What's interesting is, right after that it said, but Jesus did not commit Himself to them, because He knew the hearts of all men.
Then, in that crowd there were some people who just looked at this as a political opportunity. Jesus could be a political pawn, very useful. We hate Rome. We want to overthrow Roman bondage. This could be the tipping point we need to get Rome off our back. Jesus knew this. In John chapter 6 we read, "Jesus knew they were about to come and take him by force and make him a King."
So you've got people from authentic disciples, to seeing this as a political opportunity, to people seeing this as a free lunch, all sorts of different motivations in that crowd. But there is a Strange Hopefulness that is growing. Here's the second strange thing I want you to notice. There is a Strange Emphasis. Here's what I mean. The crowds are coming. They're here. There's thousands upon thousands of people. So what does he do? Verse 1, "seeing the multitudes, He went up on a high mountain," or "He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. And He opened his mouth and taught them," them being His disciples, "saying."
So this is worded very carefully. Don't miss this. He sees the crowd. It's as if He leaves the crowd, or tries to, with his disciples. And with His disciples, He takes them to a place where He sits down and He teaches them. In other words, and it's important to note this, this is a message not preached to the crowds at large, but to the disciples. Now, certainly there were people from the crowds who were there. I don't doubt that. I mean, it's hard to keep that many people away.
But, you've got to imagine this. Jesus is outside, speaking. And there may be thousands of people scattered around. He has no microphone. He might be talking loud, but the people that are really going to hear Him are His disciples because they're closest. And as you get further back in the crowd you're going to miss a lot. But that's OK, because this is a message preached, in Jesus' mind and heart to His disciples, primarily spoken to His followers.
Now I'm bringing this up because some people say that the Sermon on the Mount is God's plan of salvation. And they will say that, if you ever want to make it to heaven, you're going to have to obey the Sermon on the Mount. So they see it sort of as a means to salvation. You earn your stripes with God by keeping the Sermon on the Mount, and then you'll go to heaven.
Others look at the Sermon on the Mount as, get this, a charter for world peace. That if we can get nations of the Earth to adopt the Sermon on the Mount, things will be good in the world. Leo Tolstoy, who wrote that famous novel, "War and Peace," that was his premise. The Sermon on the Mount, if nations adopted this, it could change everything.
And then there are others, I would say many, many others, who just think the Sermon on the Mount is just a great speech, filled with nice sayings. You know, you've got some Beatitudes. We like those. Golden Rule, that's awesome. Thing about birds and not worrying, cool. But that's kind of it, it's just sort of platitudes and nice sayings and lovey dovey and the brotherhood of man and the birds are singing and peace is reigning.
These are people who don't understand the Sermon on the Mount. The Sermon on the Mount, or the Sermon of the Monarch has no broad, universal application. It is a message for disciples, mathetai, followers, students, His own. So, to expect non-Christians to act like Christians is absurd. They first have to be one. They first have to have life change, internal change, where something happens to that person. It's called conversion. Then they're in the kingdom.
There is something else you should note in this emphasis. He's teaching His disciples. It said, seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was... What did he do? He sat down. When He was seated, His disciples came to Him.
So, picture in your mind Jesus giving a sermon. He's not standing up like I'm standing up. He was sitting down. See we have this thing all messed up. You know, I'm standing, and you're sitting.
If this was antiquity, if this was then, the rabbi would be seated, and you would be standing. Now, you know what? Just for fun, just humor me. Just stand to your feet, just for second, stand to your feet. Let's just get the feel of what this is like.
Oh, yeah. I'm liking this. I'm... I can get used to this. Can you do this? Yeah, no. We won't do it. Have a seat. I just wanted, wanted you... We're too far down that road to change it now.
When a rabbi wanted to speak with authority, the rabbi sat down. If the rabbi was having casual, informal conversation, he might stand up. Or walk with his disciples and teach them. But it was considered not as authoritative as sitting down. And we still use this idea to this day.
Have you ever heard of a professor holding a chair in a University? Ever heard that term? Oh, that's a tenured professor. They hold a chair of philosophy, or psychology, or science. To hold a chair means to have a place where that professor speaks with authority.
Or, if you have a Catholic background, like I had, sometimes the pope in the Vatican gives a proclamation that is called ex cathedra. And ex cathedral is Latin for, from the chair. He is speaking from the chair of St. Peter, the chair of authority. So it carries more weight.
So Jesus was seated and His disciples came to Him. And please notice in verse 2 what He did with them. He taught them. He's not preaching to them. He's teaching them.
Now there's time for Jesus to preach. He did both preaching and teaching. But here He is teaching His disciples. He's instructing believers, not evangelizing unbelievers.
Now this is, as you know, one of my pet peeves. I believe that, perhaps the greatest need of the church has always been, and certainly is today, a need to be taught the Scripture. In fact, I'll take it a step further. I honestly think most of the church has been preached to death. It's all about preaching in most churches. The preacher gets up and preaches at them. That is, its exhortation, and admonition, an exclamation, and agitation.
Very little explanation. And what does that do? It creates frustrated believers. I think you have churches filled with frustrated believers. And they hear every week the exhortation. You need to love God more. You need to love your wife more. You need to obey God more. You need to do this more. You need to do that more. And all the while they're going, preacher, teacher, show me how. Teach me how to do it.
That's the shepherd's role. Ephesians tells us, we are to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.
OK. So this brings up an issue. Here, here's the multitudes coming, following Jesus wherever He goes. Jesus takes his disciples away. Come on, guys. Come over here. Sit down. Or, stand up. I'm going to sit down. And start teaching them.
Why? I mean, when you have that big of a crowd and that much interest, why not give an altar call, Jesus? You've got that many unbelievers for whatever reason, whether they're just curious or they want free lunch or they're really interested. Now is the time for you to challenge them to make a commitment. Why do you teach your disciples?
I'm so glad you asked that. I'm going to answer that. Turn with me to Matthew, chapter 9. Just go to four, four blocks right. Four chapters to the right. Matthew chapter 9. This is the answer to that question of the altar call and how evangelism takes place in the world. Verse 35, Matthew chapter 9.
"Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every sickness and every disease among the people." Reads just like what we've just read.
"But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd."
Jesus' heart broke. He saw the multitudes. For whatever reason they were hanging around Him, He knew they needed hope, they needed life. They didn't need a free meal. They needed spiritual hope.
So what does He do? "He said to his disciples..." OK. He sees the need, but instead of like, I'm going to address the need with the crowd, He tells His disciples. He's teaching His disciples.
"He said to his disciples, 'The harvest', speaking of the multitude, 'is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send laborers into the harvest.' "
OK. Now I'm guessing, just my guess, I'm guessing the disciples obey Jesus, at some point. Maybe this was spoken to them on an afternoon or an evening and they went to their tent, or home, or on their bed roll, wherever they were. And I'm guessing they prayed. So I picture Peter, James, and John.
Lord, just like Jesus said, Father, we pray that You'd send laborers out into the harvest field, this multitude of people. Send out laborers, Lord. Raise up laborers. All right.
Then we get to the very next verse. Chapter 10, verse 1, their prayer gets answered. When Jesus "called his twelve disciples to Him, He gave them power over unclean spirits, to cast them out, to heal all kinds of sickness all kinds of disease."
The names of the Twelve Apostles are given. Look at verse 5. "These 12 Jesus sent out and commanded them, saying..." What's the solution to the multitude who has such heavy spiritual need? Here's the answer. Train your disciples, and send them out.
So here's Peter, James, and John. Lord, send our laborers into the harvest. Amen. And then Jesus said, Boys. Your prayers have been answered. Go.
So the solution is to pray for evangelists, and then to practice evangelism. Be the ones that you pray for. That's His solution. So that's really the answer to altar calls. I do give altar calls quite frequently. But I'm passing the baton on to you. You have the privilege to go out and do your own altar calls, bringing people to the Kingdom.
So that's the Strange Emphasis. Let me give you a third strange thing about this sermon. There is this Strange Truthfulness. He is focused on essentially one gigantic theme. I want you to see what it is. In Verse 3, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Verse 10, "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Verse 12, "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, heaven."
And then now, go back to chapter 4, since we already read it. Verse 23, at least. Look at chapter 4, verse 23. "Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom."
Now I just want you to get this. One of the great themes of Jesus' whole ministry is this, the kingdom. The kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of heaven is among you. Preach the kingdom. And the Sermon on the Mount is the kingdom manifesto.
Now, here's what you've got to know. This is a strange kingdom. This is a kingdom that the crowds had never heard of before. They've never seen a kingdom like this. This is a kingdom without any armies. This is a kingdom with no weapons. This is a kingdom with no taxes. Hallelujah.
This is a kingdom that has no pomp, no ceremony, no castles, no pageantry. It's completely different than any kingdom they had heard of or seen. In fact, when Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate and Pontius Pilate says, so you are a King, then. Jesus said, My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom or of this world, my subjects would rise up and would fight. But they won't because my kingdom is not of this world.
So He's speaking about the great truth He is bringing is the kingdom of God. But it's very, very different. John Stott who wrote... He's one of my favorite authors. He's now in heaven. But he wrote a commentary in this. He said, I could sum up the entire sermon on the Mount with two words. So if you're taking notes, write these two words down. Christian counterculture. That's the Sermon on the Mount. Christian counterculture.
This is the kingdom, and the kingdom is completely contrary to the culture that is around us. It is counterculture and says John Stott, the church ought to be the ultimate expression of that counterculture. Not just another version of the world. Yeah, come on, come into our church. We're sort of like you guys only we use different words. No. This is a completely different kingdom. Completely different culture. Radically different.
And you can't go through the Sermon on the Mount without picking that up in, literally, every paragraph. Every paragraph. Things like this, "You have heard that it was said, but I say unto you." He uses that formula a lot. You have heard that people said this about that, but I say unto you. You've heard other things about the other things, but I say this. And He contrasts what they had heard from the religious world, from the world at large around them and says, but you are different.
In fact, in Matthew chapter 6, the Sermon on the Mount, He says, "Therefore do not be like them." Don't take your cues from the world. That's kingdom people. We who are part of this strange kingdom are those who don't let the world, or its standards, or its values, or its rock stars, or its movie stars, or its sports icons tell us how to think and live. We march to a different drumbeat of a different drummer. We're in a different kingdom.
So Christianity is, or I should say, ought to be the ultimate counter culture. Sadly, however, our biggest danger is not standing out. It's fitting in. And I say it's a danger because all of the messaging, all of the time, on all of the platforms, are telling you to fit in, don't be different, think like us, be like us, go along with our narrative, be like we are.
And because everybody likes to be liked, nobody likes to be unliked, everybody wants the popularity of the crowd, that kind of pressure makes it hard to go against that flow. But we're in a different kingdom, and so I call this a Strange Truthfulness. It's a kingdom, but it's a very different kingdom.
Which leads me to the fourth and final strange thing about this Sermon on the Mount, a Strange Happiness. Now what's the first word in Verse 3? What is that word? Shout it out. Go ahead. Blessed.
Blessed. And what's the first word a verse 4? Yeah. And it goes that way 9 times, Nine times. Blessed, blessed, blessed. It's a repeated word. And wouldn't you agree, if ever there was a churchy-sounding word, it's this word, blessed. I mean, who... You don't talk like that outside of biblical parlance. You don't say, this is a blessed loaf of bread at the grocery store.
You just don't, right? It's a word nobody gets. And I understand that some Christians like to use that word. You say, how are you doing? We always say, good. But sometimes they don't like to say, they go, I'm blessed. That's OK. And you can be blessed. I'm glad you are. Just know that nobody knows what that is unless they're part of the kingdom. All right? So it is a kingdom word. It is a kingdom declaration.
Now let me explain the word. The word blessed is the Greek word makarios, which means happy. Happy. It could be translated, "Oh, how happy are those who..." and then the Beatitudes continue. It means happy, fortunate, blissful. It speaks of an inward contentedness. It speaks of the satisfaction of your soul. We sing the hymn, It is Well with My Soul . That sort of sums up the word, blessed. The Amplified Bible translates it, "blessed, happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous."
You're thinking, what's so strange about that? Here's what's so strange about that. Here's Jesus saying, let me describe happiness to you. But the description doesn't sound like happiness like we think about happiness.
Look at it. Verse 3, "Blessed are the poor in spirit, theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed," or, Oh, how happy "are those who mourn," wail. Doesn't sound like happiness. "They shall be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the Earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, they will obtain mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, they shall see God. Bless are the peacemakers, they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake."
These don't sound like a recipe for happiness. These sound like misery under another name. And here's the point. Everything you thought you knew about what it means to be happy is challenged, right here. Everything the world says will bring you deep satisfaction is contradicted right here.
And most people have an idea of what it is to be happy. Certainly, they wouldn't include any of these. Most people would say, if you say, well, what would make you happy? Well, if I only owned, fill in the blank, whatever it is. If I owned that I'd be really happy. If I lived there, or got to move there and live there, I'd be happy. If only I could marry that guy I'd be happy. If only I wouldn't have married that guy, I'd be happy. Some idea of what it takes to make a person happy.
And it changes geographically. An article that I found said, and I'm quoting "Austrians," which is my background, "Austrians say health is the most important precondition for happiness." Those in Finland "say it's kindness. The Greeks opt for honesty. The Dutch say beauty in women and handsomeness and men make for happiness. The British claim a sense of humor is the indispensable requisite." Sort of sounds British. But "the Italians the Japanese and the Americans agree that money is no guarantee of happiness, but that it sure helps. "
Get this. I read this the other day, two days ago. NBC News said, and I'm quoting, "Americans are the unhappiest they've been in 50 years." It's a very interesting article. It was post-pandemic, or sort of on the edge of the pandemic. So we kind of understand that, that we've gone through a lot. The world has gone through a lot. There's been economic issues that go along with that.
But the article went on to say the reason people are more unhappy now than ever is, at this time, even though they're coming out of it, they don't see things getting much better. So they're feeling trapped. They're feeling isolated. They're feeling very hopeless.
Well, I've got good news. God has a lot to say about happiness. Did you know that? In fact, did you know God invented it? It was His idea. Happiness was His idea. It was God who created you with a central nervous system. That was His plan, His idea. It was God who created pleasure receptors in your brain. It is God who put a limbic system in your body. It is God who came up with the idea of dopamine in the brain. All that's God. So that you can be pleasureful, happy. He created you with that capacity.
And get this. 56 times in the Scripture, the words "God," and "joy," show up together. Or "the Lord," and "joy," show up together. In other words, there is a direct correlation between your experience of joy and your relationship to God.
What's sad is so many people connect Christianity with something that takes joy out of life. When I told my friends that I had accepted Jesus and I was a Christian so many of them said, I'm so sorry. I'll never forget that. Two of you said, I'm so sorry. You're sorry, why? Well, I mean, it doesn't sound like a happy life to me, following Jesus. But I'm having the time of my life.
Now we're out of time, and we can't get into all these obviously. So let me just make a few observations about these Beatitudes. First of all, they are proclamations. It's not a surface emotion. Jesus is not declaring, necessarily, what people feel, as much as what God thinks. Blessed, that's His proclamation. So they're proclamations.
Another observation, they're paradoxical. You want to be happy? Blessed are the poor, those who wail and mourn, those who are merciful, those who are insulted and get persecuted. I mean, that's such a paradoxical way of thinking. But, if you're a Christ follower this morning and you've been in those places, you get it. You know that you can be completely independent of external circumstances, favorable circumstances, and be filled with a sense of joy and happiness that the world can touch, so they're paradoxical.
And then another observation is they're progressive. That is, they begin and then they take you somewhere. So the first step in a relationship with God is that you are poor in Spirit. That's how you get in the kingdom. The first step in the kingdom is to be poor in Spirit. What does that mean?
Poor in Spirit means I realize I'm poverty-stricken before God. I got nothing. I can't earn my way. I can't talk God into liking me. I am broke. I am poverty-stricken, because I'm a sinner.
And that leads me to have an opinion about what I just discovered, and that is I mourn over it. That's repentance. I realize I'm spiritually broke. I mourn.
And then, as I do that, I come through that experience meek. Blessed are the meek. It leads me to a gentleness, a humility. Meekness is where I realize I'm small before a holy God, I am inadequate before a holy God. By the way, meekness is not weakness. Meekness is power under control.
And then, what happens is I start hungering for a righteousness I know I need desperately but I cannot produce on my own. It has to be given to me. I hunger and thirst for that righteousness. And that righteousness is manifested in me being merciful, having a pure heart, and being a peacemaker.
And when I start living that way, people notice it. And when they notice it I get persecuted, because I'm different than they are, and they don't like different. So I start getting insulted, and start getting misjudged. And now blessed, Oh, how happy are the persecuted. So one leads to another. They're progressive.
So this is God's kingdom. And this is a strange kingdom. This is an upside-down kingdom. Now, the world says, happy are the rich. Blessed are the thin. Blessed are the tanned. Blessed are the powerful. Blessed are those who push others out of the way, make a name for themselves. Jesus said, Nah. Actually, poor, mourning, you know, and these, persecuted. Those of the blessed. It's just completely different.
The strangest thing is that you can be hated by the world and so full of joy. Look at verse 11. We just looked at it, but verse 11 and 12, we close. "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake." Don't you hate when that happens? I have had it happen. A lot.
Look at verse 12. "Rejoice and be exceedingly glad." Why? "For great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."
Listen. You've got something coming up ahead, and you are connected to those who went behind, before, prophets. You're in good company. Jesus, all the prophets, all the godly men and women of history, they've all been hated and persecuted by the world. Welcome to church. So joy is not the absence of trouble. Joy is the presence of Jesus. And joy is, perhaps, the most infallible sign of the presence of Jesus.
So, we're done this morning. I know that's a very abrupt way to close a sermon. Usually you just kind of ease into it, land the plane softly. But we're out of time. And I'm out of words. But I do want to say this. This is what preachers do. I'm out of words, but... Paul did that a lot, by the way.
I wonder how many of you would dare to come to God poor in spirit. To realize, you know what, I'm broke. I'm bankrupt. I got nothing. I realize who I am. I'm a bankrupt sinner before God, and I'm mourning over that. I'm sorrowful. And I just want God to accept me as I am, and forgive me, and be merciful to me as I am.
That is how you get into the kingdom. That's how you get there. Poor in Spirit, mourning, He'll receive you. And you'll have... He'll put within you a joy you cannot find anywhere. And I was going to say, I guarantee it. Jesus guarantees it. These are His words.
Father, thank you for the gospel. I'm just... I get so amped. I get so excited by these truths. They're just so transformative. Even though I have read and taught this epic sermon so many times, it's fresh. I pray for those who might be with us this morning who have yet to surrender their life to Christ. They've come among the disciples, so to speak. Like the crowd members, they're hearing, but it has not up to this point penetrated who they really are. They have come to church and they have come close, but they have not yet come to Christ. And I pray they would.
So, as your heads are bowed, your eyes are closed, if you are willing to come, just as you are and be forgiven for whatever it is in your past, and it really doesn't matter what it is, God will accept you as you are and forgive you completely.
But if you're willing to accept that forgiveness and enter into the kingdom just as you are, or you need to come back to Him and you're going to do that. If any of that is true of you, I want you to raise your hand up. Our heads are bowed, our eyes closed. My eyes will be open, so I can acknowledge those hands. Just raise your hand up in the air and just say again, right over here. Pray for me.
You can just keep it up for just a second. God bless you. Anybody else? You, over in the family room. Thank you for that. Anyone else? Just raise the hand up. Just so I can acknowledge you this morning. In the back, 1, 2, 3. To my right, thank you guys. Right over here, to my left. Yes, yes, yes. So right where you are, if you raised your hand, just... Let's do this right now. Right where you're seated, say this to the Lord. Say it from the depth of your heart:
Lord, I need You. I'm a sinner. I admit it. Forgive me. I believe in Jesus. I believe He died, that He bled for me, but that He rose again. I believe He's alive. I turn from my past. I repent of my sin. And I turn to Jesus as my Savior. Help me to live for Jesus as my Lord. Fill me with joy, this strange happiness, in Jesus name.