The following is condensed from a sermon Pastor Adam gave on Matthew 5:1-3 on April 10, 2016. That sermon can be found here.
Blessing is one of those words we use so much we seldom think about what it means. “God bless you!” I say to the sneezing stranger at the store. What the heck does that mean? What exactly do I want God to do to or for this person and/or their nasal passages? We say the blessing at dinnertime. In our house we often ask God to “bless this food”. Does that make it taste better? I know it makes it colder, especially if you have to wait for 4 kids to quiet down so you can say it! In some churches it is taught that God will “bless” you if you do certain things and avoid other behaviors. This feels biblical, but inevitably it ends up being me-centered thinking, not God-centered worship. The “blessings” I’m looking for from God are things I want. They are comfort and happiness at the very least and abundance, wealth and power in the most corrupt teachings.
Are happiness wealth and health what Jesus had in mind when he spoke of blessings? No. One can only come to that conclusion by taking parables about businessmen and investments literally (and out of context) and by spiritualizing Jesus’ clear and abundant teachings, in all four gospels, that we will (not may!) have suffering in this world. The one who follows him must take up his cross. Every new testament speaks of suffering today. It’s inevitable and it’s valuable. And they speak of glory and riches as attributes of the kingdom of God. Yet to come, in the future. In the Sermon on the Mount/Plain (Mt. 5 and Lk. 6) Jesus declares these folks to be blessed: the poor, the sorrowful, the lowly, those who crave (and therefore lack) righteousness, those who show mercy, those whose heart is pure, those who work for peace, and, get ready, those who are persecuted, hated, reviled, and slandered!
Blessed. Who wants that?! People who want God for the goodies they think he offers them have to pick and choose when it comes to the red letters in their Bibles. They treat God like a dog-owner with a piece of bacon, trying to get the animal to do a trick. ‘Come here guys. Good. Now, go to church. Sing songs. Give money. Say your prayers. Roll over. So good! Here’s a promotion’. Jesus didn’t teach this. He taught first and foremost, to love the Lord your God with all your heart. Don’t perform for him, don’t try to manipulate him. Love him. That’s it. So simple. So hard.
When Jesus talks about being blessed he means closeness to God. Many times people don’t feel blessed when God draws them close. Because the world is actively rebelling against God, closeness to God quite often (most often?) results in a life that is less-than-pleasant. You might grow poor. You may mourn. You might be reviled or even killed. The reason you do not feel blessed when this happens, even though you in fact are being drawn close to God, is you do not love God. You will feel blessed whenever you are drawn close to the object of your love.
How do you love God? You fall in love. By his grace and the power of the Spirit, gazing upon his truth, his cross, his word. It’s the only way. The hymn writer said it best.
Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.