“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all who practice it. His praise endures forever!” (Psalm 11:10)
“Praise the Lord! Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in his commandments.” (Psalm 112:1)
Fear of the Lord centers our lives. When we are centered in God with appropriate fear of the Lord, we are at the same time not centered in anything else, whether our joys or troubles, our desires or trials. The Lord is the One who reigns on the throne of all creation and He is the center of all things.
When we live in right reverence of and holy wonder before the Lord, the other things that try to be the center or those things we tend to put at the center are rearranged and put in their place. The fear of people, circumstances, the future, or the unknown often comes naturally to us.But we must practice letting that god, laying it down into God’s hands, and leaving it there continually. In its place, as Psalm 11:10 says, we must practice the fear of the Lord for this will truly lead us into the way of wisdom.
So join me today in a simply practice of prayer. First, take some time to lay down before the Lord all the things or people or desires that strive to be central in our lives; those things that take the place of the Lord. Perhaps you can be still and simply pray like this: Lord, I lay this ______ at Your feet today. I admit that I have given it/them a place that it doesn’t deserve in my life. Please help me to continually release it into Your care.
Second, follow that time of releasing prayer with an invitation to God to be at the center of Your life. If we do not choose to put God on the throne of our lives, something or someone else will take God’s place. Be still and pray something like this: Lord, I want You to truly be the Lord of my life. I lay myself down before You. I am Your servant and child through Jesus’ saving work at the Cross. May I walk worthy of that calling and find my identity and meaning from You. As I continue in this day, please live as the centerpoint of who I am and keep me in appropriate reverence of you all day.
When Kelly and I were newly married and beginning our life with children we were so financially stretched we didn’t know how we were going to make it every month. We reached out to a pastor friend of ours for help with our finances. He began to help us develop a budget, which we really didn’t have at that time, but he also had us track our expenses for a few months. Everything we spent had to be accounted for; every receipt saved and every online charge written down. At the end of tracking all of that, we had to evaluate where our money was going. It was eye-opening to see where the money really went. It said a lot about us.
I’ve been told that one of the quickest ways to discover someone’s values is not to listen to what they say but to look at how they spend their money. If you can see where someone’s money goes, then you can discover what is really important to them, whether it’s coffee, house expenses, a car, food, retirement, or something else. Where our money goes indicates what is important to us. It reveals what we treasure.
Jesus knows this is true, and that is why in His master sermon on the good life with God in God’s kingdom, He addresses what we treasure. Listen to parts of verses 19 and 20 again:
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth…But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven” (Matthew 6:19-20)
Now we know a few things about Jesus and the early church that provide perspective on this statement. First, we know that Jesus was supported by some people of wealthy means in His life and ministry. He lived simply but He also depended upon the care and support of others. Second, we know that the early church had both the wealthy and the poor together in the church. There were those with houses and estates who served as gathering places for the early church, as well as those who were very poor as part of the church. This tension is addressed in various places, including the epistle of James and Paul’s epistles, such as 1 Corinthians 11.
So, money as a resource is not in itself what is at issue here. What is at issue is our “treasure” and our “hearts.” Why? Because what we treasure directs, and often defines, our life.
The importance of the heart is the key to all of this.
The heart is the center of a person’s life; what someone desires on the inside that motivates how they live on the outside.
Jesus is constantly trying to bring us back to the heart because our inner life shapes our outer life. This is why the surpassing righteousness of Christ is an inner transformation that leads to outer transformation of life.
The scary thing is what Jeremiah says about the heart:
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9)
Jesus has come to bring transformation to our inner person, which Ezekiel described in this way in Ezekiel 36:26: “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you.”
We need a heart transplant for God’s kingdom so that we can live our lives in a different way. When we have a heart transplant through Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit, then we can live with our hearts set on a different sort of treasure.
What we treasure directs, and often defines, our life.
It’s in the context of all the everyday people with everyday problems gathered around Him that Jesus begins to speak about the good life in Matthew 5:3-12.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (5:3)
Contrary to appearances, the broken down and poor in spirit, actually belong in God’s kingdom – they are flourishing with God because they know their need and are looking to God.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” (5:4)
Those who lament and cry out have the promise of comfort because God, the comforter, is near at hand. In the future, He will wipe away all our tears, and in the present, He is the God of all comfort. He will “bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning” (Isaiah 61:3).
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” (5:5)
Those who depend upon God instead of their own strength, who don’t throw their weight around, but wait upon Him with meekness will find their fortunes reversed because God is their provider in the future and for today. “The lowly will possess the land and will live in peace and prosperity” (Psalm 37:11, NLT).
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (5:6)
Those who are hungry in their spirits for what God desires often will see what’s lacking in the world. Those who look with a clear-eyed desire for things to be made right – for God’s deliverance to come – for justice to roll on like a river and righteousness like a never-failing stream (Amos 5:24) – oh, Jesus says, those will be filled. The day is coming when God will make all things new (Revelation 21:5), but even now God’s kingdom is at hand in Jesus. You’ll be stuffed to overflowing with God’s righteousness and justice. But you’re blessed now even though you’re hungry…live into that blessing now.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (5:7)
When you have a generous heart, even toward those who don’t deserve it, you’ll be shown that same generosity from others, but also by God. For our God is a God who is slow to anger and abounding in compassion, mercy and steadfast love (Exodus 34:6).
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (5:8)
Those whose hearts seek after God actively, who move beyond just outward actions of ritual purity, and toward undivided hearts set on God above all others, they’ll see God. Even if it’s not acknowledged by others, we will experience a transforming vision of God in our lives. “For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face” (1 Corinthians 13:12).
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” (5:9)
In a world of strife and division, where hatred and violence abound, those who promote peace, who listen with ears of love, get messy in the midst of conflicts to bring the soothing presence of God’s shalom, are blessed. Such people look like their Father. They’ll enter the everlasting kingdom of peace, but even now they will be kept in perfect peace because their minds are steadfast as they trust in God (Isaiah 26:3).
“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (5:10)
Those who live for what God requires, shouldn’t be surprised when opposition comes. That opposition isn’t a curse from God but the reality of a world opposed to God. It means such people have made the decision to enter the blessing of God’s flourishing kingdom more important than worldly blessing.
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (5:11-12)
With this last of the Beatitudes, Jesus personalizes the statement, helping His disciples know that in this world they – and all future followers – will have trouble, but they can take heart. The prophets, who lived and spoke for God and His blessed life, also faced the same thing. These are the heroes of the faith, who looked for God’s kingdom and lived in the now in light of that kingdom reality. That’s what it means to flourish and be blessed, even if persecution comes.
Jesus says to all those people gathered around Him, the everyday people with everyday problems, “Wake up, turn around, pay attention. God’s kingdom is right here. Come on in and find your place. God is bringing a blessing in the fullness of time. But even now you are blessed. In God’s kingdom your life is a μακάριος life: fortunate, flourishing, happy…blessed. Live now in light of that reality.”
Today, January 6, we celebrate Epiphany, which is also known as Three Kings Day. Epiphany begins a season of the church year that runs up to Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. (Some traditions celebrate Epiphany-tide through Candlemas, the feast of the the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, on February 2, marking 40 days from Christmas day.)
Epiphany comes from the Greek word epiphaneia (ἐπιφάνεια), which literally means ‘appearing’ or ‘manifestation.’ The word appears in Paul’s second letter to Timothy in a passage which sheds light on the heart of Epiphany:
This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time,but it has now been revealed through the appearing(epiphaneia) of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. (2 Timothy 1:9-10)
Epiphany celebrates the appearing of Jesus as the Savior of the world, and particularly his revelation to the Gentiles, or nations. This is why Epiphany is often associated with the arrival of the Magi to acclaim Jesus as king and offer their gifts to him in Matthew 2:1-12. Two other episodes of Jesus’ life often associated with Epiphany are Jesus’ baptism (Matthew 3:13-17) and the first miracle of turning water into wine at Cana (John 2:1-12), both of which are manifestations of Jesus’ identity and power, marking the beginning of His public ministry.
Epiphany offers an important opportunity to thank God for the light we have received through Jesus Christ and the significance of His saving work, not just for one people group, but people from around the globe. We can also reflect on how our ordinary lives are impacted by the light found in Jesus Christ, both His teaching and His life.
These words from Isaiah 60:1-3, are often read on Epiphany, and serve as a wonderful basis for worship today:
Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord rises upon you. See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples, but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you. Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn.
While most of us have heard of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, much fewer may have heard of Quodvultdeus, Bishop of Carthage. His name literally means “what God wills” in Latin. He was a 5th century church father in North Africa who corresponded with Augustine, who served as a spiritual mentor to him. Becoming bishop of Carthage in the years after Augustine’s passing, Quodvultdeus exhorted orthodox clergy to care for their flocks as Arian Vandals invaded North Africa from Spain, unleashing intense persecution. In a homily on The Creed, Quodvultdeus here addresses the death of the holy innocents described in Matthew 2.
The great King is born a little Child. Wise men come from afar to adore him who lives in a manger even while he rules heaven and earth. When these wise men proclaim that a king has been born, Herod grows fearful of losing his kingdom and therefore seeks to kill him. Yet if Herod had believed in him, he would be safe in his earthly kingdom and, moreover, would rule forever in the life to come!
Why so fearful, Herod, at the news of the newborn King? He comes not to cast you out but to conquer Satan. You do not realize this, and you fall into anxious rage; to destroy the one Child you seek you cruelly kill so many. Neither mothers’ tears nor fathers’ grief, nor the cries of the children themselves touch you. Fear kills you, and you kill them. You think that if you succeed in your purpose, you can live longer, yet you are trying to kill Life itself!
The Fountain of grace, the mighty One who lies small in the manger, brings terror to your heart. Yet through you he is pursuing his purposes, freeing people from Satan’s chains. The babes unwittingly die for Christ, and the parents weep for Christ’s martyrs. He makes them, though mute, fit witnesses to himself. But you are ignorant of all this, and you rage in your fear. You persecute the infants and serve Christ without realizing it.
How great is God’s favor! Those children had not merits to win them such a victory. They cannot speak, yet they confess Christ! They cannot advance to conflict, yet they carry off the palm of victory.