Real Life: an exploration of the Beatitudes

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we began a new series “Becoming Real” which will explore the Sermon on the Mount by looking at the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12. The Beatitudes are a very familiar portion of Scripture, so it can be difficult to hear them afresh, but I did my best to help us see both how shocking and how life-giving these statements by Jesus about the flourishing life really are.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire “Becoming Real” series here, as well as the devotional that accompanies the series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.


“Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.”  (Matthew 5:1-2)

Introduction to the Sermon on the Mount

  • Matthew’s Gospel organized around 5 discourses:
    • Matthew 5-7
    • Matthew 10
    • Matthew 13
    • Matthew 18
    • Matthew 24-25
  • The disciples as the focus, but the crowd listening
  • The Sermon on the Mount as the Discipleship Handbook for living in God’s kingdom

The Beatitudes and What it Means to be “Blessed”

  • The meaning of μακάριος – blessed, happy, it will go well with, fortunate, flourishing
  • The flourishing life in the kingdom of heaven
  • The unexpected

Exploring the Beatitudes

  • Exploring them one at a time
  • Seeing the “two tables” of the Beatitudes

Living the Good Life in God’s Kingdom

  1. Knowing and following Jesus
  2. Responding to Jesus’ invitation to enter God’s kingdom
  3. Considering what it means to be blessed or to flourish
  4. Living with God now in light of the end

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into the Beatitudes in one or more of the following ways:

  • Consider memorizing one or all of the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12.
  • Read and meditate upon the Beatitudes one per day on your own or with a friend. Write down one thing you learned each day and share with another person.
  • Consider watching Tim Mackie of The Bible Project discuss the Beatitudes
  • Explore parallels to the Beatitudes in other parts of Scripture:
    • Psalm 1:1; 32:1-2; 40:4; 119:1-2; 128:1
    • Isaiah 61
    • Matthew 11:6; 13:16; 16:17; 24:45
    • Luke 1:45; 10:23; 11:27-28

The Call of Discipleship

This past weekend at Eastbrook, we concluded our series “Power in Preparation” by tracing Jesus’ call to discipleship to Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John in Matthew 4:18-25. This was also a child dedication weekend at Eastbrook, so my sermon was a little shorter than other times.

You can view the message video and outline below. You can also view the entire “Power in Preparation” series here, as well as the devotional that accompanies the series here. Join us for weekend worship in-person or remotely via Eastbrook at Home.

Also, watch for our new sermon series, “Becoming Real: The Sermon on the Mount,” which begins next Sunday with the beginning of Lent.


“Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.”  (Matthew 4:23)

Introducing the Next Section of Matthew’s Gospel

  • The new geography: from Nazareth to Capernaum (4:13)
  • The beginnings of the Messianic community: Peter, Andrew, James, John (4:18-22)
  • The phenomenal growth and reach of Jesus’ ministry (4:23-25)

Jesus and the Call of Discipleship

  • The life situation of Peter and Andrew, James and John
  • The decisive call of Jesus
  • The response of these first disciples

Jesus and the Gathering Crowd

  • Jesus’ ministry: teaching, proclaiming, healing
  • “The good news of the kingdom”
  • The draw of the crowd
  • The crowd that followed Him

Dig Deeper

This week dig deeper into the significance of Jesus’ message and calling in one or more of the following ways:

  • Memorize Jesus’ invitation in Matthew 4:19
  • Sketch or draw the scene of the disciples following Jesus from Matthew 4:18-22 or the crowds drawing near to Jesus from Matthew 4:23-25
  • Set aside some time this week to read Matthew 4:18-25 again. Meditate quietly on these words, asking Jesus what He might be speaking to you to let go of in order to follow Him.
  • Consider watching the word study video “Euangelion / Gospel” by the Bible Project

Knowing Who We Are and Who We’re Not: a lesson from John the Baptist

John the Baptist

One of the most gripping commendations Jesus ever offered was about John the Baptist when He said, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John” (Luke 7:28). There was really no one quite like John, and Jesus recognized that.

Of course, the other part of that statement was this: “yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” John knew who he was and also knew who he wasn’t, and that shaped the way he lived.

At one point in his ministry, John said to a group of his disciples and gathered onlookers: “You yourselves can testify that I said, ‘I am not the Messiah but am sent ahead of him'” (John 3:28). John knows who he is and knows who he is not.

John the Apostle sets us up for this in the first chapter of his gospel when he says that John the Baptist is not “the Light”:

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. (1:6-8)

Later on, when John is questioned by religious leaders, he knows that he is not the Messiah,  Elijah or the long-awaited Prophet:

Now this was John’s testimony when the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem sent priests and Levites to ask him who he was. He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely, ‘I am not the Messiah.’

They asked him, ‘Then who are you? Are you Elijah?’
He said, ‘I am not.’
‘Are you the Prophet?’
He answered, ‘No.’

Finally they said, ‘Who are you? Give us an answer to take back to those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?’

John replied in the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Make straight the way for the Lord.”‘ (John 1:19-21)

John clearly knew who he was and who he was not.

Not only that, John knew that Jesus was the Messiah, and that he, John, was not Jesus:

  • John was not the light, but, as we read in John 1:9 – “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world” – Jesus is the light
  • John was not the privileged son, but, as we read in John 1:14, “the word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” – Jesus is the One and Only Son.
  • John was not the Messiah, but more than once he exclaimed to his followers when Jesus passed by, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (1:29)

John knew that he was not the awaited one, but that Jesus was the one the world was waiting for.

So, when John the Baptist’s followers come to him feeling out of sorts because Jesus’ ministry is increasing, John is not really bothered. In fact, he knows this is the way things are supposed to be. He knows that all of what he is doing is really about Jesus.

John the Baptist is a powerful example for all of us who follow Jesus. He reminds us that not any one of us is the Messiah, and we should live accordingly. I am not the Messiah. You are not the Messiah. We cannot solve everyone’s problems, be everywhere at once, or be the one to save the world. That was Jesus’ job. Believing this and live out of this belief  is a significant part of our discipleship.

We are not here to replace Jesus, but to display Jesus in our life on earth. The difference seems slight, but it is gargantuan in practice. In our lives we are not trying to be the Messiah, we are trying to direct people to the Messiah.

John the Baptist knew who he was and who he was not, and it set him free to minister as God would have him regardless of the outcome.

St. John the Theologian: a reflection by Eugene Peterson

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In his exceptional essay, “Poetry from Patmos: St. John as Pastor, Poet, and Theologian” in Subversive Spirituality, Eugene Peterson describes the Apostle John as the sort of theologian we most need and are most ready to hear. Theologians sometime receive a bad name because they seem removed from existence. But the best theologians step into the muddle of everyday life with a word about God that is life-giving and clarifying. May God give us more theologians like this.

St John is a theologian of a particularly attractive type: all his thinking about God took place under fire: ‘I was on the isle, called Patmos,’ a prison isle. He was a man thanking on his feet, running, or on his knees, praying, the postures characteristic of our best theologians. There have been times in history when theologians were supposed to inhabit ivory towers and devote themselves to writing impenetrable and ponderous books. But the important theologians have done their thinking and writing about God in the middle of the world, in the thick of the action: Paul urgently dictating letters from his prison cell; Athanasius contra mundum, five times hounded into exile by three different emperors; Augustine, pastor to people experiencing the chaotic breakup of Roman order and civitas; Thomas, using his mind to battle errors and heresies that, unchallenged, would have turned Europe into a spiritual and mental jungle; Calvin, tireless in developing a community of God’s people out of Geneva’s revolutionary rabble; Barth arbitrating labor disputes and preaching to prisoners; Bonhoeffer leading a fugitive existence in Nazi Germany; and St. John, exiled on the hard rock of Patmos prison while his friends in Christ were besieged by the terrible engines of a pagan assault: theologos.

The task of these theologians is to demonstrate a gospel order in the chaos of evil and arrange the elements of experience and reason so that they are perceived proportionately and coherently: sin, defeat, discouragement, prayer, suffering, persecution, praise, and politics are placed in relation to the realities of God and Christ, holiness and healing, heaven and hell, victory and judgment, beginning and ending. Their achievement is that the community of persons who live by faith in Christ continue to life with a reasonable hope and in intelligent love.

The Christian community needs theologians to keep us thinking about God and not just making random guesses. At the deepest levels of our lives we require a God whom we can worship with our whole mind and heart and strength. The taste for eternity can never be bred out of us by a secularizing genetics. Our existence is derived from God and destined for God. St. John stands in the front ranks of the great company of theologians who convince by their disciplined and rigorous thinking that Theos and logos belong together, that we live in a creation and not a madhouse.

Makoto Fujimura, The Four Holy Gospels

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Makoto Fujimura, Charis-Kairos (The Tears of Christ), Mineral Pigments, Gold on Belgium Linen; 2011.

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Makoto Fujimura, Matthew (Consider the Lilies); Mineral Pigments, Kumohada Paper, Gold, Platinum and Sumi Ink on Paper; 2011.

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Makoto Fujimura, Mark (Water Flames); Nihonga, Gold, and Vermillion on Paper; 2011.

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Makoto Fujimura, Luke (Prodigal God); Nihonga, Platinum, Minerals, Gold and Oyster Shell “Gofun” on Paper; 2011.

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Makoto Fujimura, John (In the Beginning); Nihonga, Platinum and Sumi on Paper; 2011.