11. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Jesus elaborated on His previous blessing about persecution. Perhaps we see it mentioned twice because He knew persecution would come to His followers. This time, He noted that the blessing comes when any of us are persecuted, as if all His followers should expect persecution as opposed to just those who are persecuted for righteousness sake as mentioned in verse 10. Persecution is coming and it’s coming because of our devotion to Jesus Christ.
One of the hardest parts about going through any difficulty is the belief that we’re going through the problem by ourselves. Jesus made it clear here that not only are we all going to be dealing with persecution, but it’s always happened; God’s prophets have always been persecuted. If we’re joining the prophets’ club of those who have been persecuted, then we’re doing so because we’re being faithful to God.
The early disciples recognized that they went through persecution because of their faithfulness to Christ and that it was a spiritual badge of honor. They rejoiced because they were considered worthy to suffer for the name of Christ (Acts 5:41) Perhaps they remembered that Jesus told them to rejoice when they were persecuted. Jesus warned us that trouble is ahead and that we can expect persecution, so when it comes, remember two things: 1) you are not alone in being persecuted, and 2) rejoice that you have become a member of that select group who are persecuted because of faithfulness.
Oh Lord, I have to admit that I would prefer that persecution not come. But if the choice is avoiding persecution or being faithful to You, give me the strength to be faithful to You in all circumstances.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Persecution can take many forms, and it can occur for many reasons. Often persecution happens because of nationality or ethnic origin. While there is never a good reason to persecute people, Jesus was talking about a different kind of persecution: persecution that happened because someone was living as though they’re in a good relationship with God.
It seems strange that in a society that asks us to let people be who they want to be, those who have a relationship with the living God are often singled out for scorn. Perhaps the reason for that is that Christians see absolute right and wrong in a world that has no absolutes. Righteousness begins with our relationship with God, and it’s revealed by a life that honors God by living according to His absolute standards. That goes against the grain when the rest of the world makes the bold claim that the only absolute is that there are no absolutes.
Christianity has always gone against the grain of society, and that has engendered persecution because we’re “not like them.” Our “not like them” lifestyle should happen because we’re living for God and according to His moral standards. While that may bring persecution, the persecution will be nothing compared to the reward of the kingdom of heaven.
Oh Lord, may I always live in a way that honors You. If that life brings persecution allow me to stand strong as Your servant knowing that the kingdom of heaven is a far greater joy than any amount of pain or suffering I may endure.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
We live in a strife-filled world. Whether we’re talking about nations at war with each other, our country after the most recent election, or families that can’t get along, tensions flare up all the time. Sadly, this is nothing new since the strife has been around since the time of Adam and Eve. In the midst of Roman-occupied Israel, a crossroads where warring armies met while going to other conquests, Jesus makes a startling claim: “Blessed are the peacemakers.”
Peace is a rare commodity in this world because it’s hard to work with people who look, think, and act differently. And when we’re so different, each of us thinks our way is right, but we’re so insecure in our beliefs, we defend them vigorously when challenged. We aren’t at peace with ourselves, and that means we won’t be at peace with God. If we aren’t at peace with God, we’ll continue to cause strife. When Jesus called us to be peacemakers He knew that we would need to be at peace with God ourselves, and His sacrifice tore down the walls of sin and made peace between men and God.
When we’re at peace with God, and we begin making peace in the world, we’re called children of God. What that means is that God and the people of the world will recognize this character trait of God in our lives and will recognize that we are like our Heavenly Father.
Oh Lord, this world is so full of strife. I ask you to guide us on the path to peace, and that You would give me the strength to be one of Your peacemakers.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Pure gold is gold without any other substance mixed in. A pure heart, in the Christian perspective,is a heart focused on accomplishing God’s will for God’s glory without any distractions. For most Christians, our difficulties in keeping a pure heart aren’t a result of a major sin that destroys our relationship, it’s that other good things distract us from our goal of doing God’s will. We begin with good intentions, but get distracted by other needs and concerns that may be good things to do, but they aren’t what God has in store for us.
When I was growing up, my father would take us fishing. One day, my dad let me steer the boat. He taught me to keep two marks in mind: a mark in front of us and a mark behind us. As I was steering the boat, my brother and I started talking and laughing and I got off track. It wasn’t that I did something wrong so much as that by not doing things right, I lost sight of my goal.
It’s easy to get sidetracked in our desire to serve God, because there are so many different ways to serve Him. Sometimes, those other ways seem to be a lot more enjoyable than following the path God put us on. When we follow those paths, though, we lose sight of God’s plan, of God’s leadership, of God Himself. Paul described the focus we need as “press[ing] toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” Our one job is to focus on Jesus Christ with pure motives and intentions and keep doing what God’s called us to do without being distracted. A pure heart seeks to accomplish God’s will without wavering in commitment and without getting distracted. The end result is that we’ll see God.
Lord, keep my heart pure and focused on doing Your will. Help me to see You in my heart. Help me to see You in the faces of the people I work with along the way. Help me to see You when my time on earth is finished.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
If you watch too many popular television shows and movies you might get the impression that revenge is the primary reason for anything to happen. The plots of most action movies revolve around the main character getting revenge for the wrong his adversary did to him. Who can forget Arnold Schwarzenegger looking at one of his daughter’s kidnappers and saying, “You’re a funny guy Sully, I like you. That’s why I’m going to kill you last.” Vengeance is a primary motivator for many classic movie scenes.
On the other hand, rarely do these movies highlight mercy or forgiveness. Those qualities just don’t sell. It’s not that people don’t want mercy, it’s that they don’t want to see other people get it. We want others to extend mercy to us, but we think other people should get what they deserve. When someone’s sins catch up to them, many Christians get a smug look on their face while they use a non-Christian concept as if it were a treasure from God and say, “Karma.”
To people like that, and I fall in that group far too often, Jesus reminds us that those who take the high road and show mercy are blessed, because they themselves will receive mercy. I believe that they’ll receive mercy in two ways. Here on earth, people will notice and honor those who are merciful by returning that mercy. Action movies based on revenge sell, but no one respects those who take revenge in real life; instead, when people see others who fail to show mercy, they find ways to make sure that the merciless among us get paid back for their evil deeds.
As satisfying as that payback may be, however, Jesus still reminds us that we should show mercy. The best reason to show mercy is that mercy is an important trait that God shows. In fact, His mercy and forgiveness is the basis of our faith. We’ve already received the greatest mercy possible when God forgave our sins and brought us into His family. Having been shown such mercy, how can we not imitate this amazing character trait of God in showing mercy to others?
Lord, how easy it is to miss experiencing Your mercy because I’m focused on exacting justice on others. Teach me to show mercy like you do, even as You show me mercy in those times that I fail you.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Psalm 42 paints a beautiful verbal picture of what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness as the psalmist describes a deer panting for water and then adding, “so my soul pants for you, my God.” I imagine a picture of a deer on the run, searching for something to drink as he seeks refuge from the attacks of animal or human hunters. In his desperate flight, his thirst overwhelms him and his search includes looking for water as he runs. I wonder if Jesus had this passage in mind when He talked about hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
These words were especially appropriate to people who often wondered how they were going to be able to get their next meal. They understood both hungering and thirsting and the effort it took to satisfy their needs. The call from Jesus was to apply that same mindset towards righteousness. Just as their physical hunger and thirst compelled them to search for food and drink each and every day, the search for righteousness was to be their number one spiritual priority each day.
Righteousness has a two-fold meaning for Christians. The first meaning, which is common to all people, is the idea of living morally upright lives. We should be so desperate to live in a morally upright way that God’s standards should always be on our minds as we go through the days. We should strive to live in such a way among people that they’ll recognize that we’re following God’s plan for living. At the same time, righteousness includes the concept of a good relationship with God. Just as we should strive to live morally upright lives, we should seek a relationship with God that surpasses all other things or relationships.
The promise of Jesus is that those who do hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled, or satisfied as the New American Standard Bible puts it. You can’t take a sip of water and be filled, nor can you take a small taste and walk away satisfied. The hunger and thirsting that Jesus calls us to is a full commitment to our relationship with God and a life that honors Him in all we do. That happens when we’re desperate in our desire for a good relationship with God.
Lord, create that hunger, that thirst for righteousness in me. Let my life reflect my relationship with you. May all my actions reflect your character as I live each day for you.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
The ideal American male is tall, muscular, and is involved in athletics. Football players tend to be the top of that heap. If they excel at the new tradition known as “trash-talking” that’s a plus. These are the men we cheer for. These are the men that get pulses fluttering. These are the he-men, the macho-men whom our culture idolizes. I have no doubt that people in ancient times looked up to their strong men as well. Think about the lists in the books of Chronicles that talked about David’s heroes. In the face of ancient and current society, Jesus reminds us that the meek are the blessed ones.
Today, we think meek means weak. Nothing could be further from the truth. Meekness happens when power is under control. Some have used the picture of a horse that’s been tamed. No one would call such an animal weak. A tamed horse’s power is under control and, because its power is focused, the power becomes even greater. Jesus used this simple life truth to call His followers to learn to control their power.
As followers of Christ, we learn to control our power by drawing closer to God. As we draw closer to God, we recognize that we need to put all of our power in His hands. That doesn’t cause us to become powerless, it instills meekness in our lives and we become far more powerful than we would have been on our own. True power comes when we give it up to God.
As a result, we receive an amazing inheritance: the earth. Inheritances are not deserved, they’re a gift that reveals something about the character of the giver. Our Father God promises us that those who are meek will gain the earth as our inheritance. He’ll entrust the world that He loves so much to us. And, as truly meek children of God, we’ll trust Him to guide us in managing our inheritance.
Lord, I recognize that all things in heaven and on earth are Yours. Help me to take whatever power I think I might have and put it under Your control. Let my meekness testify to Your power.
Jesus was hours away from the cross. As He prepared for that ordeal, He spent time with those people who had been with Him for three years for a final meal and time of prayer. His final meal was the Passover, one of the most important holidays of the Jewish faith, that celebrated God’s deliverance from Egypt. On that day, Jesus Himself would become the Passover sacrifice for all mankind which we remember as the time God delivered all men from the bondage of sin.
12. And the first day of unleavened bread, when they killed the passover, his disciples said unto him, Where wilt thou that we go and prepare that thou mayest eat the passover?
Jesus’s first day on earth happened when he was born in a stable because the city was crowded during the census. It’s interesting that His last night in Jerusalem was in a city so crowded with religious pilgrims coming into town that the disciples weren’t sure about having a place to go to prepare and eat the Passover.
13. And he sendeth forth two of his disciples, and saith unto them, Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him. 14. And wheresoever he shall go in, say ye to the goodman of the house, The Master saith, Where is the guestchamber, where I shall eat the passover with my disciples? 15. And he will shew you a large upper room furnished and prepared: there make ready for us.
Jesus was prepared. It almost goes without saying now, after 2000 years, but we should never doubt that Jesus would be prepared. I’ve never surprised Jesus with my actions. Here He was ready with the answer to their question and an interesting way to identify who to follow. The disciples were to look for a man bearing a pitcher of water. Coming from our modern perspective, that may not seem like a big deal. Without running water, like we have today, someone would have to bring water to the household. As you look at the culture, though, in that time, women were the people who went to the wells for water. If you think back to stories about encounters at wells, a woman was always the one who was getting the water. When Jesus told them to look for a man carrying water, it was a form of culture shock. I imagine the people around the area might have whispered and mocked that a man was doing “women’s work” when he went to get the water, but Jesus’ disciples were to look for that man and follow him: he was the key. Not only is Jesus always prepared, He will use people in unexpected ways to accomplish God’s work.
As the disciples continued this top secret mission to find a room to prepare and eat the Passover, they were to follow this servant to his final destination and talk with the master of the house asking him where the room was that had been made ready for them. If this all seems like a cloak and dagger way of doing what should be accomplished easily, remember two things: 1) the city was crowded with people trying to do the same thing. Passover was one of the feasts that called Jews into town from all over the world and everyone needed a place to prepare it. Jesus had made prior arrangements, and 2) don’t forget that the religious leaders were trying to arrest and ultimately kill Jesus. If Jesus and the disciples were wandering around, trying to find the place where they would be preparing the feast, it would have been easy for the religious leaders to spot Jesus. Since Judas wasn’t in on the secret of where this upper room was, he couldn’t tip the hands of the authorities earlier than he would eventually do. This man was obviously a person who knew of Jesus and respected Him enough to save a large room for what would be Jesus’ last supper here on earth.
16. And his disciples went forth, and came into the city, and found as he had said unto them: and they made ready the passover. 17. And in the evening he cometh with the twelve.
I’m not sure how the number of people adds up here because some of the disciples made the Passover ready. I can only surmise that either “the twelve” was a generic term for the disciples no matter how many were with Jesus at the time or that the disciples prepared the Passover and went back to escort Jesus to the upper room. It’s also possible that a few women accompanied the disciples when they went to look for the room and they were left behind to prepare the meal while the disciples went back to get Jesus and the other disciples. Whatever the situation, you’ll notice that Jesus went to the room with the disciples in the evening. After dark when He would be harder to see. It’s not that Jesus was afraid of upcoming events. It’s that He wanted some final time with His disciples.
18. And as they sat and did eat, Jesus said, Verily I say unto you, One of you which eateth with me shall betray me. 19. And they began to be sorrowful, and to say unto him one by one, Is it I? and another said, Is it I?
This was a pivotal moment in the dinner. Jesus shocked all the disciples but one with this announcement. It would have been bad enough to be betrayed by anyone, but how much worse that the betrayal would come at the hands (lips?) (caution – spoiler alert) of Judas who had traveled, ate, and slept with Jesus and the other disciples for almost three years. I don’t think the other eleven could imagine that any of them would do such a thing deliberately, I think they were imagining accidentally blurting out something that would lead the authorities to Jesus. Eleven of them asked if they were going to be the one to do it, perhaps with the idea of making sure not to go anywhere for a while. Judas joined in the questioning so that the other disciples wouldn’t figure out that he was the snitch. I can only imagine the look Jesus might have given him when Judas asked that question.
20. And he answered and said unto them, It is one of the twelve, that dippeth with me in the dish. 21. The Son of man indeed goeth, as it is written of him: but woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! good were it for that man if he had never been born.
Jesus highlighted the anguish of the betrayal by noting that the betrayer was one of the twelve who was eating with Him. He was even dipping his bread in the same dish that Jesus was. I don’t know if there was one dish in common for all or if there were two or three dipping dishes set out. I would imagine that with thirteen people at the table, they might set out two or three. If so, Jesus narrowed down the potential number of betrayers to one of those sitting closest to Him, and if that’s true, perhaps that highlights the extent of the tragedy even more, since those sitting closer to Jesus would generally be some of the more trusted disciples. That would make the betrayal just a bit more tragic.
How tragic would the betrayal be? Jesus thought about the betrayer and focused on the consequences of that betrayal so that Judas would know what he was doing before he did it. He can’t stand before God at the final judgment and say that he was hoping for something else to happen. Jesus told him, and the other eleven, that things would be so bad for him that he would wish he’d never been born. There is a theory floating around that tries to soften the betrayal by saying that Judas believed so strongly that Jesus was the Messiah that he betrayed Jesus in order to force His hand and make Him call out His army to overthrow the Romans. If he still had that thought in mind, this warning should have dissuaded him, but Judas would not turn back from his decision to betray Jesus.
22. And as they did eat, Jesus took bread, and blessed, and brake it, and gave to them, and said, Take, eat: this is my body. 23. And he took the cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them: and they all drank of it. 24. And he said unto them, This is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many. 25. Verily I say unto you, I will drink no more of the fruit of the vine, until that day that I drink it new in the kingdom of God.
In the middle of the Passover service, Jesus blessed and broke the bread (unleavened of course). His command may have seemed strange. They were to eat it in part because it was His body. Given that I am not Jewish and that I am not familiar with all the elements of a Seder or Passover meal, what I say now may not be completely factual. It is however, what I understand to be true based on my limited research. I, of course, am open to being corrected. As I understand it, three pieces of bread are placed in a cloth cover. The breaking of the bread occurs when the leader takes the middle piece and breaks it. The larger of the two pieces is called the afikomen, which is then hidden, and comes out at the end of the meal as a dessert. The ancient tradition was that nothing was to be eaten after the afikomen. The breaking of the bread was followed by the second of four cups of wine. I think this is the part of the service we see. It is possible that this is near the end of the service when the Afikomen is eaten just before the third cup of wine, but the bread is usually broken before the second cup. While we don’t see the whole service in this part of the story, we do know one thing: the service was incomplete. Even if what we read here comes when Jesus served them the afikomen and the third cup of wine, He still committed to drink no more until He would be able to drink it in the Kingdom of God. Either the fourth cup alone, or the third and fourth cup weren’t consumed at this Passover meal.
As we understand the story behind the afikomen, it’s easy to see how and why Jesus called that piece His body: His body would be broken for them, hidden in the grave, and then would return. The cup of wine was a reminder of the blood that He was about to shed. I believe that Jesus was talking symbolically here, and not saying that the bread would literally become His body nor would the wine become His literal blood. Obviously, this has become a point of contention in all of Christendom. Perhaps we all need to give each other the same right to be wrong that we expect from them. Our relationship to God is based on the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross, not what we believe about what happens with the bread and the wine. The fact that Jesus didn’t finish the meal was a reminder that even better things were to come in the Kingdom of God.
26. And when they had sung an hymn, they went out into the mount of Olives.
The meal closed with a hymn. Was it perhaps the hallel, which is based on Psalms 113-118 and usually ended the Passover service? Who knows? I think so, but we won’t know until we enter into our eternal rest. Because of subsequent events, I believe that the Mount of Olives was one of Jesus’ “go to” places. When Judas sought Jesus to betray Him, he knew that Jesus would be in the area of the mount of Olives.
27. And Jesus saith unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered. 28. But after that I am risen, I will go before you into Galilee.
Jesus’ prediction was pretty clear: everyone would run away when Jesus was betrayed because He, their shepherd-leader, would be taken and killed. As He made what must have seemed like a hope-draining comment, He noted that He would rise and see them in Galilee.
29. But Peter said unto him, Although all shall be offended, yet will not I. 30. And Jesus saith unto him, Verily I say unto thee, That this day, even in this night, before the cock crow twice, thou shalt deny me thrice. 31. But he spake the more vehemently, If I should die with thee, I will not deny thee in any wise. Likewise also said they all.
There’s a modern tradition in our age of social media. Someone saves everything a political opponent may say, and when what the opponent said proves to be wrong, they publicize their words with the phrase, “That didn’t age well.” Peter protested by noting that he would never run away. When Jesus told Peter that not only would he run away, he would publicly deny knowing Jesus, Peter doubled down, noting his willingness to die with Jesus rather than deny Him. Note here that all the other disciples said the same thing. In the words of our time, “That didn’t age well.” We all remember Peter denying Jesus, but he went as far as the chief priest’s house before denying Jesus and running away. The only other disciple to get that far was John, if I recall correctly. All the others scattered into the night when the going got rough.
While I’m getting ahead of the story here, it’s important to remember that when Peter saw Jesus after His resurrection, Jesus forgave and restored him.No one has ever surprised Jesus and no matter how badly we may mess up, He’s ready to forgive us. He’s also ready to guide us and will give us direction in life if we ask. At the same time, we’re reminded that our experiences in this world are but an incomplete shadow of the fullness of life we’ll have when we join in fellowship in the Kingdom of God. We may not know everything God has in store and we won’t agree on all the details of what He’s done and what He will do, but when we focus on the sacrifice Jesus made for us, we can continue to work and serve together for the Kingdom of God
(As I get used to my new schedule, these will begin appearing earlier in the morning my time. Thank you for your patience in the meanwhile.)
January 2 (Matthew 5:4 NIV)
Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.
When Jesus talked about mourning here, He used the word that describes a person’s deep and sorrowful reaction to the death of a loved one. If you’ve lost someone close to you, you can understand that sense of loss, that helpless feeling that you can’t do anything to fix what’s wrong. This last year, 2020 has provided all sorts or occasions for mourning. We’ve all lost family or friends this past year. Some have lost businesses or careers, or perhaps seen dreams destroyed in the midst of the pandemic. Mourning is an important part of the process to help us deal with such losses.
Some, though, would demean those who mourn, attacking them for their lack of strength. Jesus gave people the freedom to mourn, reminding them that they would be comforted. Those who seek to hide their grief may be admired by the world, but they never receive comfort: not from family, not from friends, and not from God.
At the same time, I think Jesus, who told people not to fear him who could kill the body but not the soul, had a deeper meaning for those living in the Kingdom of Heaven. Not only should we mourn our personal losses, but we should mourn for those who are separated from the Kingdom of Heaven. We should mourn injustice, hatred, and oppression. In short, we should mourn all things that might keep a person from experiencing life in the Kingdom of Heaven.
The promise of Jesus is that those who mourn will be comforted. In some cases we may be comforted by the presence of family and friends as we deal with our personal losses. As we expand our mourning to lament living in a world separated from the goodness of God, we’ll experience God’s presence as He comforts us. Ultimate comfort will come as we celebrate the presence of God in our daily lives as citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven.
Lord, we do mourn the losses we’ve experienced in this world and are grateful for the comfort that comes from family and friends. We’re especially grateful for Your presence and comfort. We also mourn for a world that hasn’t experienced Your goodness and grace, a world that doesn’t live in the Kingdom of Heaven. We pray for your comfort in our mourning, and we pray that all people in this world may experience Your Kingdom.
This year, I am going back to writing daily devotionals. They will be topical, and I’m beginning with a series on the Sermon on the Mount. I pray that they help you grow deeper in your relationship with God.
January 1 (Matthew 5:3 NIV)
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Most of us in the United States really don’t understand what it means to live in poverty. Perhaps we compare ourselves to people who are wealthier than ourselves and think of ourselves as poor, but we’ve never experienced the abject poverty that leaves us wondering where our next meal will come from, or if we’ll have a next meal. That kind of poverty creates dependence upon the goodness of others: someone giving you a paying job; someone helping you out in financial emergencies. Your own resources have been exhausted and without others stepping up, you might not survive.
The disciples understood that kind of poverty. They may not have experienced it themselves, but it was all around them in the culture. One of the parables Jesus told related to clothing people who were so poor that they were naked. There were no cultural safety nets for people living in poverty other than some kind of help from the Temple. The need to care for the poor was so great that giving alms was considered a religious duty.
The religious elite of Jesus’ day, the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the priests, thought they were in good shape because they gave to the poor, and made sure everyone knew it. They didn’t need any help because they had it all together. While none of them would have said it publicly, they were probably sure that God was lucky they were on His side. They were so full of themselves, and the pride that comes from being spiritually elite, that there was no room for God to bless them.
In the Beatitudes, one of the groups of people Jesus described as blessed were the opposite of the religious elite: those who were dependent spiritually or the spiritually poor. Jesus taught that those who came to God in their spiritual poverty, depending on Him for all of their needs, would receive His blessings. We receive God’s blessings when we put away all pretense to goodness in ourselves and throw ourselves as spiritual paupers into the arms of God. When we do that, we receive a blessing greater than any job or financial blessing: we receive the Kingdom of Heaven.
Lord, teach me to depend on You for all things and not trust in my own abilities. Help me to know that in the midst of my spiritual poverty, You welcome me into the Kingdom of Heaven.
Daily Enduring Truth is now available in eBook format. They will be available two months at a time. The January-February edition is out now. If you want to be sure to have these devotionals available every morning, get the book now.