Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
(1 Corinthians 1:3)
“How are you?” Fine. Alright. Good. Plugging along. “How are you?” [After a long pause and a deep sigh] “OK.” You’ve probably heard all those responses to a question that usually expects a throw-away answer, kind of like it’s just a mere social formality. “How are you? Good, OK, now we can move on.” But has anyone ever surprised you with an uncommon answer to that entirely common question? “How are you?” “Blessed.” Every once in a while, I hear that one and it takes me by surprise. Sure, you’ve probably heard something like it before. There’s a little wooden sign in someone’s kitchen that says, “Too blessed to be stressed,” and I bet there’s more than one Instagram #blessed floating around on profile or two. But how can we say that? When do we say something like that? Usually when things are going well. When you landed a promotion at work; when your kids are all home for Christmas; when you win an award – then we expect #blessed to start flying around. That just makes sense, because I can certainly perceive what God is doing and God is being good to me, and therefore it naturally follows that I must be blessed! And it’s true enough – a promotion is a blessing, children are a heritage from the Lord, and award is a special gift. Blessings to be sure – but would you ever expect to hear “How are you? I’m blessed” from someone who’s dirt poor? “Blessed” from someone who’s spiritually and physically hungry? “Blessed” from the guy who’s been ostracized by his family just for being a Christian? That wouldn’t make any sense. Because we can clearly see that those people are not living their best or blessed life right now.
Nobody would say that, right? There are plenty of infomercials that promise a product to help you live easier, and there are bald faced lies from people claiming to speak in the name of Jesus telling you that with this special offering or with just the right spiritual exercise, you, too, can live your best and blessed life right now! It just makes sense that good things will come to good people. It makes infinitely more sense that God’s blessings would come to those who trust in him, but consider the great reversal Jesus pulls in the gospel. He tells his disciples and us what it looks like to live our blessed life now – and it has nothing to do with our circumstances and everything to do with our Savior. Jesus is showing us what it means to live your blessed life now!
But when you look at the context of when and to whom Jesus spoke these words, you might wonder if he knew what he was talking about. Jesus had just spent the night on a mountainside praying to God. The next morning, he appointed those twelve men (Simon Peter, Andrew, James, his brother John, Philip, Thomas, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus, Thaddeus, Simon, Judas, and Bartholomew) to be his apostles. Then, Jesus brought those dozen guys down the mountain to a level place, and that’s when the craziness started. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all. It was one thing to be handpicked to be one of Jesus companions, but it was a whole different thing to be on the other side of the huge crowds that rushed together to see and hear Jesus. People from, literally, all over had come to see Jesus and there they were – a mass of humanity and an ocean of need. And Jesus dove in head first. He healed their diseases. He drove out their demons. In fact, we’re told that people were eager just to get close enough to touch him because divine power was going out from him and even those who touched him were healed!
Can you imagine what those freshly-minted apostles must have seen? What they were thinking? This is what following Jesus is all about? I could get on board with this! Glory, fame, triumph! Sickness and demons flee at the sound of my voice and all the people hang on my every word?! I could get used to this! This is what following Jesus is, or should be, all about right? We’ve got an all-powerful Savior God who has just revealed himself as such, and we’re on his team. I’m ready to live my best and blessed life right now – bring it on, Jesus! Trouble be gone, pain a thing of the past, get me a bigger shelf to hold all my trophies, and a deeper pocket to house all my wealth. Is this what it means to live your blessed life now? This is exactly what many people out there are shooting for – health, wealth, improvement, and ease. But what about when those things don’t happen? Are you really living your blessed life now?
There’s a temptation for us to think that way, too. How often don’t I think “I’m blessed when I can put something more in the checking account; I’m blessed when this illness goes away; I’m blessed when my strengths are on full display and everyone can see how great I am.” When we do that, we’re putting out faith in what we can see, what we can be or accomplish, what we can quantify. In the process, we grasp at temporal straws and ignore the eternal blessings that Jesus promises. We’re setting ourselves up for failure, just like Jeremiah said, Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the Lord. Lest you or me or the freshly formed apostolic roster be whisked away by any delusions of earthly grandeur, Jesus quickly fills us in on just what it means to be a follower of Jesus and to live your blessed life now. Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Jesus isn’t giving unbelievers a formula for how they can get some of his blessing. Jesus is telling believers who they are and showing us that we can live our blessed life now. In other words, we live this way not to earn God’s favor, but because we already have it.
At first glance, it doesn’t seem to make any sense: Blessed are you who are poor…who hunger…who weep…when men hate you…exclude you…insult you. It doesn’t seem to make sense to tack the word “blessed” onto any of those life situations, but do you see the common thread that runs through all these statements of Jesus? You are blessed, even when you’re poor, hungry, weeping, hated, and insulted. Do you know why? Because in all of those instances I am finally emptied of myself. When I realize just how much of a beggar I am, without two spiritual coins to rub together, and maybe not two real coins either; blessed? Yes! When I’ve tried to satisfy my every desire with the things and thrills of this world, but only end up with a growling stomach; blessed? Yes! When I thought I could gauge my life’s worth based solely on how I whistle and skip my way from one success to another, but in the process discovered what a failure I am; blessed? Yes! When I weep for not just the sin and its damages out there in the world, but for the sin and its ravages in this heart right here; blessed? Yes! When I come to realize that I’m emptied of myself, I get to see all the more fully just how true it is that Christ and his forgiving grace fill me to overflowing. Jesus completely redefines what it means to live your best and blessed life now. It’s completely counter-intuitive, but then again it’s the gospel – so we’ve kind of come to expect that.
But, I suppose the big question is still hanging out there: How can you rejoice when you’re poor? Everyone in the world knows that a little more money can solve a lot more problems. How can you be blessed when you’re hungry? When you’re weeping? Because Jesus says you are. He doesn’t say, “You’d better get poor…if you want to be blessed you’d better be hungry and figure out a way to start weeping!” He says, “Blessed,” because that’s what you are. How can you rejoice? Because in Christ you know the end from the beginning. Not even death can rob you of the certainty of his promises for you, because he’s defeated that enemy, too. Jesus says, Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. In Christ, you ARE living your best and blessed life now – and please, please understand that the way Jesus wants you to. It has nothing to do with your circumstances and everything to do with your Savior.
The great reversal – this only makes sense in Christ. You can rejoice when you’re poor, hungry, weeping, hated, and insulted. Why? Because of the One who speaks these words of promise. Jesus is the One who was rich, yet for your sakes became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich. Jesus is the One who hungered when he perfectly faced down the devil’s temptations for you. Jesus is the One who wept at the ravages of sin in this world and didn’t just weep, but did something about it. Jesus is the One who was hated, insulted, betrayed, and killed for your sins and mine. What Jesus says here may seem like a reversal from our normal way of thinking, but consider the greatest reversal of all that Jesus endured – trading a throne in heaven for a birth in a manger. Swapping the songs of angels for the shouts of sinners screaming, “Crucify!” Laying down his Life of all the living to defeat your death once and for all. Why did Jesus do it? To take away your sins, to prepare a place for you forever in heaven, to deliver on exactly what he promises here, so that he could speak one word about you that makes all the difference for you in both time and eternity – so that he calls you blessed, and that is what you are.
So what about when life hurts? When it seems like everything is going wrong, the odds and the world are stacked against you, and you face one defeat after another? Does that mean Jesus has abandoned you? Hardly – in fact, that’s when he’s close than ever. That’s when his promise to Paul rings in our ears, “My grace is sufficient for you.” It’s then we realize that when we are emptied of ourselves, we are filled with Christ. We can say with Paul, “for when I am weak, then I am strong.” When life is one disappointment stacked on the next and you honestly wonder if you can go on, remember the one who speaks these words to you – the one who went to hell and back to make you his own; the one who promises never to leave you; giving you his strength; the one who has the power and the prerogative to make a promise so grand that he’s working all things in the universe for your eternal good. When Jesus calls you “blessed,” understand what Jesus is NOT saying. Jesus isn’t saying your pain doesn’t matter. Jesus isn’t minimizing your pain – he’s redeeming it. Jesus also isn’t saying it’s wrong to smile, laugh, have a full stomach, or a retirement account. What he is saying is that we don’t put our hope in those things. The tough times don’t drive us to despair and the better times don’t inspire our hope, because even if all that was gone tomorrow, we would still have more than we started with because his promise is sure.
So what IS Jesus saying? Realize what you ARE – blessed. Why? Because you feel like it everyday? Because the world just has to lay eyes on you to see how incredibly better off you are? Because you’ve managed to get yourself to be poor and hungry and weeping and NOW God is going to finally deliver? No! Realize what you ARE, right now, present tense – blessed. Why? Because of the One who speaks these words. The Son of God pronounces you to be blessed, and as he names you, so you are. The very words he speaks give exactly what they communicate. So, do you see? Our best and blessed life is best and blessed not because of our list of visible successes and personal triumphs. Our best and blessed life is best and blessed when we are not dependent on ourselves but only on our Savior Jesus – the one who speaks a word over you and so it is. So, how are you? Let’s have Jesus answer that question for you. How are you? Jesus says it about you – forgiven, my child, blessed.
And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.