Finding JOY in Perilous Times

MATTHEW 5:3-10

This is from a sermon I delivered at First Baptist Church of Ojai (CA)…

We certainly find ourselves living in perilous times. What we are witnessing in these 18+ months is nothing I ever would have imagined in my lifetime. The following passage sums it up. Unfortunately, we are seeing these characteristics inside the Church almost as much as we are seeing them in the culture. It’s no wonder people are leaving the Church – and that’s on us fellow believers.

“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For [people] will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!”

2 Timothy 3:1-5 (NKJ) [1]

This “turning away from such people” means that we may need to establish some emotional and ethical boundaries, and, possibly, withdraw from some relationships as being too toxic.

On the other hand, it is most helpful to distinguish between the “world” and the “world system.” John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world…” means that God LOVES people vs. the “world system,” which is rooted in corruption, greed, lust, pride, and envy that are too often operating below the surface. God loves the world but hates the “world system.”

No need for us to withdraw from the political system, the public square, or meeting people where they are – just like God met us.

My own opinion is that for the last 18-months Jesus has been in The Temple (i.e., Church) turning over tables… He’s wanting to get our attention.

So, how do we, as intentional followers of Jesus, combat the craziness that is going on in our world today? That is what I would like us to consider in this post. A subtitle might be: The Unlikely Route to Joy.

We are going to be taking what I hope is a fresh look at a VERY famous portion of the NT – The Beatitudes, which are the opening salvo of the most famous sermon ever delivered – The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). 

The SOTM takes about 11 minutes to read, so this is most likely Matthew’s Cliff Notes version. What Jesus was doing here is leading the crowd to a place on the mountain, where they could hear Him and then He sat down and began to teach.

The late pastor, theologian, and missiologist John Stott referred to the SOTM as Jesus’ manifesto for a revolution. “It is the nearest thing to a manifesto that [Jesus] ever uttered, for it is His own description of what He wanted His followers to be and to do.”[2]

Jesus is the MOST revolutionary person who ever lived and the purpose of His coming was to initiate a counter-intuitive and subversive revolution. 

I have come to see the Beatitudes as our surrendered response to the “gospel of the kingdom of God” that we see Jesus proclaiming in Matthew 4:23.[3]

For the purpose of this blog, let’s view the Beatitudes as a step-by-step spiritual formation (or, discipleship) process that moves us toward a revolutionary gospel joy, spiritual depth, and emotionally healthy spirituality. 

Charles Spurgeon (The Prince of Preachers) referred to them as, “a ladder”[4] – one rung at a time. (stable base then one rung at a time)

I would add that this becomes cyclical as we circle back around, we grow deeper and deeper in our faith. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones the great English preacher in his seminal work: Studies on the SOTM continually refers to our need to keep showing up at Mat 5:3, asking the Holy Spirit to refine our heart and fill us afresh. To quote Lloyd-Jones: “We are not told in the SOTM, ‘Live like this and you will be a Christian;’ rather we are told, ‘Because you are a Christian [it is possible to] live like this.’”[5]

I would refer you to the graphic at the top of the page. In the Beatitudes there is an emptying and then a filling. Simply stated, we cannot be filled until we are first empty.[7] As we are emptied there grows in us a grateful hunger, a deep longing to please and honor God that begins to change our relationship with people. This is what the Church needs to focus on — and it’s not just a onetime deal, it’s a lifelong journey of sanctification.

So, with all that said, let’s read Matthew 5:3-11…

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Matthew 5:3-11

So, the question becomes: how do we live like this? The one thing that is SO important to reiterate is that each beatitude is produced by grace alone.[6]

Think of yourself standing at the foot of the Matterhorn in the dead of winter with no climbing equipment whatsoever. It is simply a human impossibility. We can’t get there from here… God’s grace, however, will do IN us and THROUGH us what we could never do on our own.

Following, is a VERY brief overview of each beatitude to show how one leads into the other.

Blessed are the poor in spirit…

“You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope. With less of you there is more of God and his rule.” (E. Petersen – MSG paraphrase)

“Happy are those who know their need for God.” (JBP paraphrase)

Prodigal Sons (Luke 15:17ff) – The younger prodigal became poor in spirit. We don’t know if the older brother did or not…

To be “poor in spirit” means that we seek to experience a desperateness of soul that is weary of living in it’s own strength and longs for God’s mercy and grace to come and refresh the soul. 

Blessed are those who mourn…

As we are honest about our own sinful tendencies there will be a transforming grief and lamenting, which includes repentance, which surfaces – not only for our own lives, but also for the injustice, greed, the abuse, the suffering that grips our world. (4.5m COVID deaths worldwide, racial discord, climate crises, sexual exploitation and trafficking, political polarization, the Afghanistan fiasco, etc.). Mourning, grieving, and lamenting are overlapping concepts that are a way in which we take all of the emotional upheaval in our lives and bring it before the Lord.

We have the book of Lamentations in the OT and approximately 42 Psalms are Psalms of Lament (30 individual 12 are communal). The Bible Project, in their overview of Lamentations, provide 3 purposes for lamenting…

1. A form of protest

2. A way to process our emotions

3. A place to voice confusion (some deconstruction is appropriate in this season)

This is where divine paradox[8] comes into play. The Beatitudes are paradoxical or, counterintuitive. We go down to go up; death always precedes resurrection; we get to the land of joy by traveling through the land of grief. Our soul wants to find a way around grief and mourning, but God says, “No, you must travel through grief to get to joy (like He did) – and the good news is, He tells us, “I’ll go with you AND we will do it in My strength and power.”

Blessed are the meek…

The concept of meekness is not weakness; it’s almost the opposite – strength under pressure; like a wild stallion that has been “broken” (broken-in?). We can either surrender to Christ and invite His breaking, His training, or we can remain undisciplined and wild. I believe it was Rick Warren who said that meekness is the power of your potential under Divine control.

Grieving over sin and suffering cultivates a holy meekness in us and delivers us into a humble learning posture. Remember, disciple means learner.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…

Again, we see this Beatitude as a bridge from being emptied to beginning to be filled. Spiritual hunger and thirst is the growing desire to be liberated from those things that don’t reflect God, and initiates hunger-pangs for wholeness. And out of worshipful gratitude we want to please, worship, and honor God. Obedience is not the goal of the Christian life, it’s the fruit of a holy hunger and thirst for righteousness.  

And then, as the diagram above points out, there is a turning point, a filling. An overview, or summation, of these first four Beatitudes might summed-up by the phrase “where there is great humility there is great grace”

Let’s look at what it means to be filled…

Blessed are the merciful…

Mercy is entering into another person’s feelings – attempting to see things from another person’s perspective – all with understanding AND acceptance — just like Jesus has done for you.

Mercy doesn’t overlook the consequences of sin but comes alongside to offer unexpected or unmerited compassion. And as we receive God’s mercy, we begin to give mercy – to ourselves and to others.

Blessed are the pure in heart…

Mercy cleanses our heart and restores purity to our lives.

Did you know that spiritual and emotional virginity CAN be restored? (This is good news for sexual abuse survivors.)

For I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy; for I betrothed you to one husband, so that to Christ I might present you as a pure virgin. But I am afraid that, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds will be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ.

2 Corinthians 11:2-3

Blessed are the peacemakers…

Purity gives way to a personal serenity and peacefulness. Peace is not the absence of conflict, but the absence of anxiety, or dread, in the midst of inevitable conflict – and when others encounter it, they want it too.

If we had more time I would want to talk about the ancient Hebrew concept of peace, which is SHALOM – and speaks of a universal flourishing, that was the original design of Creation.

But here I will limit my remarks to considering the difference between a peacemaker and a peacekeeper.

To be a peacemaker does not mean peace at any cost.  It means we have the courage to “speak the truth in [genuine] love” –Ephesians 4:15.

Peacekeeping creates a false peace that eventually erupts into a conflagration of conflict.

Blessed are the persecuted…

Living life from a kingdom of God perspective will place us in conflict with those that oppose it and usually it’s the “religious” people!


Church-wide renewal (or revival) begins with individual renewal – and individual renewal begins with owning-up to our own issues and showing-up once again at Matthew 5:3. Or, maybe for the first time??

The gospel has the greatest potential to captivate us when we understand that we are more depraved than we ever realized and simultaneously more loved that we ever dared to imagine (Tim Keller).

What will a genuine revival cost the Church? James Burns, in his book asks the question: Do we want a revival?  Do we really?  And then he answers…

To the church, a revival means humiliation, a bitter knowledge of unworthiness and an open humiliating confession of sin on the part of her [pastors] and people.  It is not the easy and glorious thing many think it to be, who imagine it filled the pews and reinstated the church in power and authority.  It comes to scorch before it heals; it comes to [convict] people for their unfaithful witness, for their selfish living, for their neglect of the cross, and to call them to daily renunciation and to a deep and daily consecration.  That is why a revival has ever been unpopular with large numbers within the church.  Because it says nothing to them of power, or of ease, or of success; it accuses them of sin; it tells them they are dead; it calls them to awake, to renounce the world [system] and to follow Christ.[9]

Jesus has been turning over tables in Church-land. What could He be seeking to say to us? I believe the most succinct and comprehensive prophetic word to the Church can be found in 2 Corinthians 11:3, can we get back to the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ?

[1] NIV= “terrible times;” ESV = “times of difficulty;” NASB = “difficult times;” AMP = “dangerous times [of great stress and trouble];” TLB (paraphrase) = “in the last days it is going to be very difficult to be a Christian.”

[2] The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, IVP 1993: 15.

[3] Mat 4:23: “Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people.”

[4] C.H. Spurgeon. The Beatitudes (#3155), Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: 1873.

[5] D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones. Studies In the SOTM, 1997:16-17.

[6] Lloyd-Jones: 35.

[7] Lloyd-Jones: 42.

[8] Paradox = a seeming contradiction.

[9] James Burns. Revival, Their Laws & Leaders, London: Hodder and Stoughton 1909:50.

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