Matthew 5:1–12; 1 Corinthians 1:18–31; Micah 6:1-8; Psalm 15
This past Tuesday, the president brought up the issue of the minimum wage in his state of the union address. Seems like the topic of the minimum wage is a hot topic in Washington these days. What should the minimum be – and why is it needed – and so forth. I’m happy to stay out of that debate because I see merits to the arguments on both sides.
But there is another minimum debate that I very much want to talk with you about today. And it has to do with the Kingdom of God – and you thought I was going to talk politics when I started talking about the minimum wage didn’t you! No, the minimum I want to talk about is the minimum needed to get into and be a part of the Kingdom of God.
And when that subject comes up it usually sounds something like this. “Pastor – what is the minimum I need to do – what are the minimum requirements I need to know – in order to get into heaven?” The question really misunderstands – and quite frankly – misrepresents what the Christian faith is all about.
First of all – let me remind you – that you don’t NEED to do anything. The thought that I need to do something – whatever that something is – suggests that if I’m going to go to heaven someday – then it’s up to me to do something about it.
Well – let me say at the start that the only requirement – and if you want to call it a minimum requirement – I guess I’m okay with that. But all you really need is to believe and have faith. If you’ve already got the belief in God part nailed down – that’s one thing. But it takes faith. The minimum requirement is faith. If you have faith – if you believe and you trust that your sins are forgiven – NOT because of anything you’ve said or done – BUT because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – then you don’t need anything more than that.
Your ticket into heaven has already been paid for by Jesus. And he gives it to you as a gift. For instance, I have free tickets to tonight’s Super Bowl game that I want to give you. As many as you need. Food, transportation, lodging are all included. Will you take it? There’s only one catch. Your plane leaves in 45 minutes!
Your ticket into heaven has been bought and paid for by Jesus Christ. He give it to you as a gift. That’s what the Bible tells us. The Bible tells you that you are made right with God “not be works of the law, but through faith in Christ Jesus.” You can find that promise to you in the Bible in the book of Galatians 2:16. So if you want to talk about a minimum requirement, that’s it. Believing and trusting – having faith – relying on him and him alone to be both your Lord and the One who saves you – or in other words – relying on Jesus to be your Savior.
It sounds too simple to be true, doesn’t it! In fact it sounds downright foolish, doesn’t it! But listen again to our reading from I Corinthians:
18For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. … 25For God's foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God's weakness is stronger than human strength.
You see, we’re so used to paying our own way. We’re not used to somebody saying to us, “Take this. It’s yours. I’m giving it to you as a gift.” And so, when God says to us, “I give you the gift of eternal life with me as a gift. It’s been bought and paid for by my Son Jesus Christ,” we’re more apt to wonder what the catch is.
Well – the catch is – that there is no catch. Just accept the fact that you are accepted. And if you can accept the fact that you are accepted by God – that He loves you just the way you are – and there’s nothing more you need to do – then you will know that God has already accepted you into His Kingdom.
Now – having said all that. Let me complete the statement I just used. Yes – it is true – that God loves you just the way you are – but He loves you too much to let you stay that way.
So let me suggest that we ask the right questions. We’re more likely to get the right answers when we ask the right questions. Listen! It’s okay to ask, “What’s the minimum requirement I need to do to get into God’s Kingdom?” And once you learn that all you need is faith in Jesus Christ – that that’s the minimum you need – then you can move on to the next question – which I think is what most Christians really are asking.
“Now that I know I am loved and accepted by God – and I accept the fact that I am accepted – how then shall I live?” After all – I want to do what’s right. I want my life to count for something. AND I want to be happy.
Okay. Fair enough. And let me tell you that Jesus understands that. We were not created to be miserable men and women. I mean – who wants to hang around miserable people! Not me.
I kind of like joy-filled people, don’t you? So I try to be a joy-filled person myself. And I think most people – at least I hope most people – would say that about themselves. People want to be happy.
But sometimes I think we go about trying to get there the wrong way. You see,
• Happiness is not at all based upon what you have. True happiness is based upon who you are. Would you agree?
• Happiness is not based upon the kind of house that you live in; it depends on the kind of people who live in the house.Would you agree?
• It is not the kind of clothes that you wear, but the person who wears the clothes. Would you agree?
And really – I hesitate even to use the word happy. You know my definition of happiness. My happiness depends on the things that happen to me – the things that happen in my life. And I can never rely on things always happening in the right way to insure that I will be happy.
No, the word I think we’re really looking for to describe where we want to be in life is the word joyful. And I know that I can learn to be joyful even when not so good things happen to me. What I am about to say might sound like foolishness to some – but real joy comes in things like contentment. Satisfaction. Because these are more a state of mind – or an attitude. Satisfaction leads to contentment which leads to joy.
So let’s take a look at our Gospel reading for a moment today. These sentences taken together are known as the Beatitudes. And Jesus begins by saying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven.” Ever wonder what Jesus means by “poor in spirit”?
Jesus is saying that the first step to personal joy – the first step we take after learning to trust God – and to put our faith in God – is to be poor in spirit. And to be poor in spirit means to get rid of pride. We need to let go of pride, because you see, pride gets in the way of true joy, peace, and contentment. Why? Because pride always puts me first. And the me-firsters that I know are never happy. They’re never happy. There’s very little joy in their lives.
So if you’re asking, “How then shall I live,” let me suggest that the idea of being poor in spirit is the key. It also happens to be the key to all that follows in the Beatitudes. I like the note in the Life Application Bible that says:
• Blessed are those who mourn. Yet you cannot mourn without appreciating how insufficient you are to handle life in your own strength.
• Blessed are the meek. Yet you cannot be meek unless you know you have needed gentleness yourself.
• Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. Yet you cannot hunger and thirst for righteousness if you proudly think of yourself as already righteous.
• Blessed are the merciful. Yet you cannot be merciful without recognizing your own need for mercy.
• Blessed are the pure in heart. Yet you cannot be pure in heart if your heart is full of pride.
• Blessed are the peacemakers. Yet you cannot be a peacemaker if you believe that you are always right.
Do I need to repeat that last one? You cannot be a peacemaker if you believe that you are always right.
All of these beatitudes are rooted in humility, being poor in spirit. It almost sounds – you know – counter intuitive. But I am here to tell you today – true joy – or happiness if you will – comes – number one – when we realize that we are in need of a Savior – when we accept the fact that we are accepted. And number two – when we put away pride and learn to say, “It’s not about me.”
Again, it’s almost counter intuitive – but the happiest people I know – the most joy-filled people I know – are those who put the needs of others ahead of their own needs. People who are content with what they have. People who recognize their need for God. Folks who recognize their need for a Savior. People who are living lives of satisfaction which leads to contentment which leads to joy. Or as the prophet Micah puts it in our Old Testament reading: “What does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.”
Justice – always doing what is right.
Mercy – God shows you mercy – so learn what it means to be merciful.
Walk humbly with God – put away pride and walk humbly with God.
Let me share with you a story. Maybe this will wrap up everything I’m saying here today.
One Sunday as they drove home from church, a little girl turned to her mother and said, "Mommy, there’s something about the preacher’s message this morning that I don’t understand." (I know. Sometimes that happens)
The mother said, "Oh? What is it?"
The little girl replied, "Well, he said that God is bigger than we are. He said God is so big that He could hold the whole world in His hand. Is that true?"
The mother replied, "Yes, that's true, honey."
"But Mommy, he also said that God comes to live inside of us when we believe in Jesus as our Savior. Is that true, too?"
Again, the mother assured the little girl that what the pastor had said was true. With a puzzled look on her face the little girl then asked, "If God is bigger than us and He lives in us, wouldn't He show through?"
Folks – IF you’re asking as a follower of Jesus Christ – “How then shall I live?” let me give you a quick answer. It’s not about you. It’s not about me, and it’s not about you. It’s not about pride – but God showing through. Amen