IT’S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIP
I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes
to the Father except through me. If you really knew me,
you would know my Father as well.
Jesus (John 14:6,7)
Total commitment in today’s world is found mostly in
historical novels. It seems that people now prefer relationships
more like tollbooth transactions. That’s where dialogue
has become a ritual of worn phrases and words. When we
drive through a tollbooth on a bridge or highway we feel
obligated to say something. It’s never anything that needs a
response or explanation. So, after tossing in your money, it’s
“Have a nice day”, or “Sure hope it doesn’t rain”; “You’re
looking great today”, or some other harmless quip. There is
no real meaning, but it makes you feel good. However, we
know that tollbooth relationships don’t produce anything.
Further, it’s not God’s idea of relationship. The relationship
He offers begins with commitment and lasts forever.
Because relationship with God is essential to eternal life,
how is it started? What steps can we follow to begin this kind
of living? And what about God’s part in this? What
responsibility does He carry for me? Why is it necessary in
the first place? As we saw in the passage just concluded
(Matthew 6:9-13), this life starts with relationship: “Our
Father. . . .” That should not surprise us. When you say you
were born in America or Ireland, Nigeria or Bolivia, you’re
not saying that someone was digging in the yard one day and
accidentally found you. No, your life began with a relationship
between your father and mother. Since you were
born, everything that has happened to you had something to
do with that relationship. You carry their DNA.
The same is true for our living in eternity. Our relationship
with our heavenly Father is where we begin and how we
continue. If we don’t start with a relationship with the Father,
nothing can follow. For instance, who would want to see a
heavenly Kingdom on earth if one is presently at war with
the King? Or, how can I feel indebted to a God who for-gives
me if I have no contact or relationship with this God? It
makes no sense. Nor can I understand Jesus’ full teaching of
Matthew chapters 5, 6 and 7, if I have rejected His invitation
On the other hand, once we accept relationship with the
Father, everything changes. The “Lord’s prayer” summarizes
how relationship with God affects us. The prayer:
Signals there has been a change of perspective—from
earth to heaven (6:9)
Recognizes holiness as God’s primary attribute (6:9)
Motivates us to do God’s Kingdom work (6:10)
Makes God’s will our highest priority (6:10)
Creates a desire to feed daily on the Bread of Life,
the Word of God (6:11)
Mandates the model for relationship with others (6:12)
Warns us that we are at war (6:13)
Reveals the nature of our war and our enemy (6:13).
Let’s restate the Lord’s prayer a little differently. As we
accept God as our Father, He turns us around. Now we desire
to see His heavenly rule extended to earth. We recognize the
holy character of the King and His demand for holy living.
Sin is so serious it requires elimination through confession
and forgiveness. As Kingdom members we are forgiven
people who acknowledge our weaknesses. We realize our
urgent need for daily spiritual food and deliverance from the
Integrating with our culture is not what changes our character.
Transformation comes by being related to the King.
Relationship with God enables us to participate in the great
venture of God’s Kingdom. It creates the incentive and
power for the task at hand. We realize that just repeating the
words of the Lord’s Prayer doesn’t bring us into God’s
Kingdom. Remember Jesus’ warning, “Not everyone who
says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven,
but only he who does the will of my Father who is in
heaven.” (Matthew 7:21-23). As Jesus announced, it is life
not talk that establishes relationship. “For whoever does the
will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and
mother.” (Matthew 12:50). Jesus’ parable of the two sons
showed us that difference. One said the right words, but the
other made the right commitment—he did his Father’s will.
Relationship That Requires New Life
Here’s what we need to consider: How can we bridge the
gap between a perfect, eternal God and a failing, dying
humanity? How can we start talking? Unless a change is
introduced either about God or mankind there won’t be any
dialogue. One thing is certain: We can’t build on the existing
conditions. God is perfect; mankind is fallen.
To illustrate the need for something new, think back to
our discussion about Nicodemus. You will remember he was
the Pharisee who came to Jesus at night. He probably wanted
to assure a private session with Him as crowds surrounded
Jesus continuously during the daylight hours. Nicodemus
opened the conversation in a culturally correct manner. “We
know you have come from God,” he began. He complimented
Jesus while giving himself credit, too. (John 3:1, 2).
Notice Jesus’ response. In one sentence He striped away
the veneer of social generalities: “I tell you the truth, no one
can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” That
perplexed Nicodemus as he could only relate birth with his
own experience. But it got Nicodemus’ attention. Jesus was
telling him that the start of a relationship with God could
only be described as a “new birth.” There’s no other way.
Thus, Nicodemus’ question is not surprising. “Can someone
my age reenter his mother’s womb?” (John 3:4).
Regrettably, the phrase, “born again” has current meanings
in slang and language that distort what the Scriptures
and Jesus and Nicodemus were discussing. It is not a “fresh
start”, “revitalizing,” or “rising from the ashes” kind of
meaning as presently used. What Jesus described was the
literal new conception of life within an individual. A person
must accept the truth that in our present condition we are
incapable of living in harmony with God and His Kingdom.
In the introduction to his Gospel, John wrote about the
meaning of the “new birth”. “Yet to all who received him, to
those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become
children of God—children born not of natural descent, nor of
human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.” (John
1:12, 13). Later on, the Apostle Paul also wrote of the need
for radical change. “The (person) without the Spirit does not
accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they
are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them,
because they are spiritually discerned.” (I Corinthians 2:14).
It’s like living on a different planet. No human traits or
abilities can bring us into this relationship. We are hope-less
without God’s intervention.
This is not just accepting an idea. We are allowing God
Himself to implant in us the seed of eternity. Read how Peter
described it: “For you have been born again not of
perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and
enduring word of God.” (I Peter 1:23). This new life, created
by God’s initiative and action, makes living in eternity a
possibility and a reality. Just as physical life requires birth,
eternal life requires birth into a new relationship.
The idea of a “new birth” astounded Nicodemus, a
member of the Jewish ruling council (John 3:4). At first, it
was beyond his comprehension. Like many others of his
time, he thought that relationship with God was a result of
human activity. We see the same thing when another person
asked about eternal life: “As Jesus started on his way, a man
ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. ‘Good
teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ”
Jesus answered that we cannot earn or work our way into
heaven (Mark 10:24-27). Yet today, some are teaching that
the new birth is not necessary—people just need a little help
getting into the Kingdom. That’s not what Jesus told Nicodemus.
Without this new birth (a brand new life), said Jesus,
one can’t enter or even “see the kingdom of God.” (John
3:3-7). Jesus’ statement contradicts universal human
thinking. We all like to imagine ourselves as pretty good!
Being born into the human family produces two permanent
results: (1) It renders a person incapable of entering
God’s Kingdom, and at the same time (2) it makes that
person eligible to enter God’s Kingdom. Jesus said several
times that He could only help those who are without hope. In
other words, unless we are hopeless there is no hope! “On
hearing this, Jesus said, ‘It is not the healthy who need a
doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: “I
desire mercy, not sacrifice.” For I have come not to call the
righteous, but sinners.’ ” (Matthew 9:10-13).
“For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was
lost.” (Luke 19:9, 10). “The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts
for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and
they are life. Yet there are some of you who do not
believe.” (John 6:63). In these verses Jesus is telling us He
becomes our hope when we agree that eternal life comes
only from God’s activity. As our parents gave us physical
life, so the new birth is God’s activity that brings us into His
Relationship With God
“What must I do to be saved?” As in Jesus’ time, that
question is still being asked. His answer remains the same:
It’s relationship! Jesus’ answer is disappointing to some because
it isn’t what we do that counts. However, Jesus would
not announce His Kingdom and invite us in without providing
the means to enter. That’s the issue He settled as He
began His mountainside Sermon (Matthew 5) Jesus presented
the steps necessary for entering His Kingdom. Let’s look
at them one by one.
Step #1: Spiritual bankruptcy
“Blessed are the poor in spirit—theirs is the kingdom.”
If Jesus had said, “Poor in bank account,” we would understand
that means being in financial trouble or even bankrupt.
Step number one, Jesus tells us, is to abandon the idea that
we can somehow make it on our own spiritual credit. At the
point of complete spiritual and moral poverty, He said, we
are eligible for Kingdom membership. Only when we admit
we are spiritually bankrupt can we qualify for heavenly
This truth is repeated throughout Scripture. For example,
the Apostle Paul, after detailing mankind’s depravity, described
our true condition. “What shall we conclude then?
Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the
charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is
“ ‘There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no
one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned
away, they have together become worthless; there is no one
who does good, not even one.’ ” Romans 3:9-13). I believe
that about includes everyone. We are all sinners! (See John
3:17-19; 14:6; Psalm 14:1-3; Isaiah 53:5, 6; 64:6).
Scripture presents humanity’s spiritual condition as so
hopeless that the word used is “dead.” “As for you, you were
dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to
live when you followed the ways of this world.” (Ephesians
2:1, 2). A “dead” person can’t do anything for him/herself.
To become “alive” someone else has to bring life to them. If
you have a cardiac arrest (your heart stops), you’re gone
unless someone gives you C.P.R! We can’t give life to
ourselves. That’s what the Scriptures are saying—someone
outside has to be the “life giver.”
But what if we could give ourselves life? If we could
enter God’s Kingdom through personal achievement, selfdevelopment
or some other method apart from God’s action,
it would have been unnecessary for Jesus to come to earth.
Since we don’t have life within ourselves, Jesus came to
show us the way. He is also the way. “Therefore Jesus said
again, ‘I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All
who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the
sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate: whoever enters
through me will be saved.’ ” (John 10:7-10).
The only way the Creator of the universe could redeem
the race was to provide His only Son as a sacrifice. If that
was God’s only plan, how can humans invent an alternate
way? We can’t because we are finite and mortal. All human
effort arises from a corrupt center. A dead person can’t give
life to another dead person. We are back to our original question,
aren’t we? Only now it’s, “What can I do to be saved?”
Sorrow over sin
“Blessed are those who mourn.” Realizing my personal
spiritual bankruptcy is crucial to begin the process. However
it ends the process if it is not followed by the next step,
mourning. Over what? Many things and events can bring
sorrow. Here, we understand this step within the context of
Jesus’ teaching: Universal human spiritual bankruptcy. As I
face the profound bankrupt condition of my soul, it brings
me to true sorrow. When I realize that in my present
condition I am unacceptable to God and there is nothing I
can personally do to reverse it–that is what causes me to
mourn. All of my efforts to make myself acceptable to God
end in failure. And, I’m not alone.
Listen to what the Prophet Isaiah said when he saw the
Lord: “ ‘Woe is me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of
unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and
my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’ ” (Isaiah
6:1-5). King David had the same response when he saw
God’s nature and the hopelessness of his own condition.
“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing
love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions
. . . For I know my transgressions, and my sin is
always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and
done what is evil in your sight.” (Psalms 51:1-4). On the
return of the Messiah to earth, there will be similar mourning
(Zechariah 2:10-13:1; Revelation 12:7).
Can there be any other possible or acceptable response in
the sight of God, who is offended by our sinful condition?
No, for without true sorrow, forgiveness is not possible. As
the Apostle Paul wrote, “yet now I am happy, not because
you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to
repentance. For you became sorrowful as God intended and
so were not harmed in any way by us. Godly sorrow brings
repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but
worldly sorrow brings death.” (II Corinthians 7:8-10).
In the Sermon in Matthew, Jesus did not separate people
into groups with differing needs and requirements. Sin is
universal and so are its consequences. Judgment falls on all
who sin, leaders and followers alike (Matthew 23). Jesus
made no special exemptions. We are all in the same condition.
“Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one
man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to
all men, because all have sinned.” (Romans 5:12).
All of us have sinned. As we mourn over our sin and
sinful condition we open the door to relationship with the
Father. One of the Old Testament prophets put it this way:
“But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn
from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his
sin . . . But if you warn the righteous man not to sin and he
does not sin, he will surely live because he took warning, and
you have saved yourself.” (Ezekiel 3:19-21). Owning up to
our sin and confessing and repenting from our sin is the only
response that is affirmed throughout Scripture. John the
Apostle said it like this: “If we claim to be without sin, we
deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our
sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and
purify us from all unrighteousness.” (John 1:8, 9). Sorrowing
over sin is not an end in itself. True sorrow over sin leads to
the next step—submitting to the King.
Submitting to God
“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.”
Meekness doesn’t get high marks in today’s world and it gets
bad press as well. However, what Jesus introduced here is in
the context of the first two steps or phrases—poor in spirit,
and mourning. Once I realize my true condition (bankruptcy)
and express true sorrow for my actions and condition, I can
submit myself to God in Biblical meekness. That’s not the
kind of meekness we read about in the comics or see on T.V.
It’s the meekness that described Moses, the man of God. He
submitted himself to God and acted decisively to carry out
God’s plan under God’s authority. That’s the meekness that is
written about when he is called “the meekest man on
earth.” (Numbers 12:3).
So when Jesus declared, “Blessed are the meek,” He was
describing people acting under the sovereign authority of
God. Let’s follow the process as Jesus explained it. How can
I submit myself to God’s authority without being sorry for
my sin that is an offense to Him? In this condition, can I
plead anything but spiritual bankruptcy? And if I won’t
submit to God’s rule, how can I claim to be a part of His
Kingdom? Recognition of my condition and godly sorrow
for sin leads to a willingness to be obedient to God’s will—
unless I am in rebellion against God. (II Corinthians 7:9b,
10). That is the picture of meekness Jesus developed.
When I submit to God’s authority, the transfer from my
day and time to eternity can take place. The new birth
involves a willing submission to the authority of God. If I
don’t hand over personal control of my life, He won’t enter
my life. Like the well-known painting of Jesus, He is still
outside the door of my heart. He does not force His way in.
Kingdom relationship begins when God becomes the center
of my life. If He is not invited in as my King, I am still in
charge. If God is the subordinate in the relationship, I’m still
living for this age, not the age to come. I’m still in rebellion
to the Creator God.
Read how Jesus explained this on the mountainside: “No
one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and
love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise
the other.” (Matthew 6:24). The pretender to the throne in
this case was money. The point is the God of the universe
does not share His sovereignty. Unless I vacate the throne of
my life and turn it over to God, I am still at war. The struggle
ends only when I give up authority over my life.
Paul the Apostle illustrated the transfer of power in our
lives like this: “Once you were alienated from God and were
enemies in your minds because of your evil behavior. But
now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through
death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and
free from accusation . . . .” (Colossians 1:19-23). Once we
submit to God, He takes us from being His enemies to
people without blemish, free from accusation before Him.
Do you sense the freedom from that transaction? We are
no longer bound by the dictates of culture or self. We are
liberated to life in God’s Kingdom. Does this mean, then,
that this freedom has no boundaries? Does it mean that since
I’m free from accusation, I can act as I wish? Even before
this kind of thinking can germinate in our minds, Jesus
answered the question. Living in eternity is directly connected
to God’s will and to His Word, the Scriptures.
We are as free as the perfect will of God. We are as
unchained as His Word. As the Psalmist expressed it, “Your
word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.” (Psalm
119:105) God’s will and His Word are eternally united. If it’s
contrary to His Word, it is not His will. Jesus was as clear
about this as He was on any other question.
Feeding on the Word of God
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.” Being certain that we are doing
the will of God is the next step that Jesus unveils. Kingdom
members are to apply the straight edge of God’s eternal
Word to measure their lives. See how David explained it:
“Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord
And in his law he meditates day and night.”
(Psalm 1:1, 2)
Those who have submitted to God’s authority and are
searching His Word are on the right track—they are heading
into the Kingdom. As we explore daily what He has said in
His Word, the will of God is clarified. “To the Jews who had
believed him, Jesus said, ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are
really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the
truth will set you free.’ ” (John 8:31, 32). Do you see the
freedom Jesus is talking about? Is that the freedom you want
to experience? The surest way to have that freedom is to be
“hungering and thirsting after righteousness.” Jesus said
you will be filled!
There is a great Old Testament example of this principle.
During the time of Jeremiah the prophet, Israel had sinned
and was taken into captivity in Babylon. Through Jeremiah,
God sent Israel a message. “This is what the Lord Almighty,
the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from
Jerusalem to Babylon . . . ” After this introduction, he
follows with instructions about His Word. “Yes, this is what
the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says: ‘Do not let the
prophets and diviners among you deceive you. Do not listen
to the dreams . . . They are prophesying lies to you in my
name. I have not sent them,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah
Through Jeremiah, God was warning Israel that there are
many conflicting voices out there—even false prophets. So
He said, “Stick to what I have told you!” And if you do that,
God said, “ ‘Then you will call upon me and come and pray
to me and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me
when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by
you,’ declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 29:10-14). Isn’t that a
great promise to all who are His children? Get as much of
Him and His Word as possible. That’s all you need.
The reality is that often, we are already filled, but with
the wrong stuff. And that’s the problem. Our times and
culture surround us with its news, values, standards, great
deals and everything else under the sun. We must live our
lives in the world and our minds pick up the surrounding
debris of our culture. It’s like walking on a dirt path—there
seems to be no way to keep our feet from getting dirty. Even
the air we breathe pollutes our lungs. Spiritually, we get so
used to it we don’t realize we have been infected by our
culture’s deadly virus. It’s no wonder, then, why we have
difficulty in knowing God’s will.
Did you know that the Apostle John wrote about our
culture? Although the world with its desires is passing away,
it can also lead us astray. However, “the person who does the
will of God lives forever.” (I John 2:15-17). So he said, “See
that what you have heard from the beginning remains in
you.” (I John 2:24, 25). James, who was a half-brother of
Jesus and became a leader in the Jerusalem church, also gave
us wise counsel. He said the person “who looks intently into
the perfect law and continues to do this, not forgetting what
he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he
does.” (James 1:22-25). You can see how those words echo
what the Prophet Jeremiah declared centuries earlier. In each
case, the requirement is to be filled daily with God’s eternal
perspective from His Word.
When Jesus said “those who hunger and thirst after
righteousness shall be filled,” He was declaring that without
that, we would not be filled. Unless we focus on eternity’s
point of view, we are going to roam around without a
compass. We will fall prey to whatever novel idea is spun off
by our times and culture. But that is not God’s plan for us.
The writer of Hebrews testified, “we are receiving a kingdom
which cannot be shaken.” (Hebrews 12:27). His Word
will satisfy the thirst and hunger that we have. Jesus made it
clear: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will
never pass away.” (Matthew 24:35). Do you believe that?
Before moving to the next step in the Kingdom process,
let’s check to see how far we have come. We have now considered
the four steps Jesus said are necessary for Kingdom
Declaring personal moral and spiritual bankruptcy
Sorrowing over our personal condition and actions
Submitting to God as the sovereign of our lives
Searching the Scriptures to determine God’s will.
These are the steps (or process) that connect us with God and
His will for our lives. The vertical relationship must be
settled first: God and me; heaven and earth; eternity and
time. These are first and primary.
After that, Jesus moved to a second level or part of
Kingdom life. He began talking about our relationship with
others. “You see,” He continued, “a living relationship with
God will affect all human relationships.” Changing our
outlook from time to eternity is going to have a dramatic
effect on our daily living.
Relationship with others
Jesus emphasized our spiritual relationship with God as
essential. That’s true. That’s where it starts. Now He shows
how the first part (relationship with God) is going to change
and influence all our other relationships. When Jesus said,
“Blessed are the merciful,” He directed the result of our primary
relationship with God to our relationship with others.
That’s like His response to the man who asked about the
greatest commandment. To love God, He said, “is the first
and greatest.” He went on, “And the second is like it: love
your neighbor as yourself.” He is saying we don’t participate
in His Kingdom isolated from others. Living in eternity
carries everyday implications. Again, Jesus set the example.
There was at least one time in Jesus’ life on earth when
the connection between His relationship to the Father and to
humankind was in question. Jesus was on the cross. He had
been crucified by the Roman garrison in Jerusalem under the
authority of the governor, Pontius Pilate. The soldiers had
already flogged Jesus, a brutal torture that left the victim half
dead. His closest followers had run away. Abandoned by His
friends and abused by His enemies, why not turn your back
and forget about human relationships? Under the circumstances,
everyone would understand. What did Jesus do?
As He reached the place of execution, two criminals who
were paying the price for their crimes were placed beside
Jesus. By this time, all three were bloodied and battered. One
criminal mockingly reviled Jesus and His situation: “Aren’t
you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” (Luke 23:39). The
other criminal, however, rebuked the first one. “Don’t you
fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence?
We are punished justly for we are getting what our deeds
deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke
23:40, 41). This criminal then turned to Jesus with an absurd
request: “Remember me when you come into your
kingdom.” (Luke 23:42).
“Your kingdom”? In this desperate situation beyond all
possible human remedy this man sought entry into the Kingdom
of God. In an affluent society, we might be deluded
about our true condition. This man wasn’t. He understood.
The process of brutal execution was well on its way. This
criminal reached out at the moment of certain death for a
relationship of eternal life. He saw beyond the ultimate
consequence of the cross on both himself and the Person
next to him. While he was dying, he saw the King who could
bring him into life. “Remember me . . .” he pleaded.
Jesus responded in a way that must have electrified this
beaten, broken and dying man. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus
replied, “today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke
23:43). In other words, Jesus told him “We’re going together,
you and I. In My Kingdom, we don’t travel alone. My
journey won’t be complete without you.” Jesus reached out
to His companion in suffering and promised, “You will be
with me!” That is all this dying man needed to hear. Those
words turned a living hell into the most magnificent hope—
living in eternity.
It is impossible to separate earthly consequences from
our heavenly relationship. Even in the darkest hour of His
life, totally alone, Jesus’ words reveal the connection and
continuity between the two relationships. Being a member of
the Kingdom of God does not take us out of human contact
and conflict. We are still “in the world” with relationships
and responsibilities. That is Jesus’ example.
What is Jesus’ vision for His church in this regard? As
He was praying to the Father right before the crucifixion,
notice carefully His words: “My prayer is not that you take
them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil
one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it.
Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me
into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (John
17:15-18). Yes, even in our worst hours, Jesus said we have
been commissioned to act as He did. Now we can look at the
next characteristic of Kingdom members.
“Blessed are the merciful.” People don’t go around
showering mercy on others without some reason. To express
mercy, there must be a cause, some human clash or conflict
that calls for it. For me to show mercy some situation must
arise in which I have power over someone. That is, I have
grounds to extract payment, compensation or some other
consideration because I have been unjustly harmed. But
rather than cash in on my rights, I voluntarily give up what is
morally mine. Instead, I show mercy.
Just being alive brings us into conflict with others. Such
conflicts furnish us with plenty of opportunities to show
mercy. We have already seen the connection between forgiving
others and receiving forgiveness: “Forgive us . . . as we
have forgiven others.” (Matthew 6:12). In a similar way, our
showing mercy validates our relationship to God and His
Kingdom. Jesus told us, “Be merciful, just as your Father is
merciful.” (Luke 6:36; see also Micah 6:8; James 2:12, 13).
Showing mercy displays our heavenly parentage and Who is
in charge in our life.
Showing mercy when we have been wronged or someone
owes us something is not the normal cultural or human
response. When we have been harmed, what we want is
justice, right now! Sometimes we encounter people we
would like to “zap” like David prays (Psalms 58 and 69) or
the disciple’s desire to call down fire from heaven on the
Samaritans (Luke 9:53:59). Oh how we struggle with showing
In a parable we looked at earlier, Jesus met that struggle
head on in the story of two servants. One owed his master a
debt in the millions of dollars. The servant pled with his
master and asked for mercy. The master forgave the man
everything he owed him. The servant who had received
mercy and was forgiven then went out and found another
servant who owed him a few dollars. The fellow servant pled
for mercy, but was turned down. The forgiven servant took
his fellow servant and had him thrown into debtors prison
until he paid back the debt. On hearing what had happened,
the master took the ungrateful and wicked servant and had
him put in prison to be tortured. (Matthew 18:22-34).
The parable about the two servants and Jesus’ teaching
here express the same theme: Our relationship with God
leads us to be merciful. Showing mercy indicates that we are
members of His Kingdom. When we show mercy, God’s
character is revealed again. Our ability to show mercy is the
result of a new heart and a new life. It‘s not a part of the old.
Being pure in heart
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
With this phrase, Jesus goes to the essence of Kingdom
membership: It’s a matter of the heart. Frequently, Jesus
emphasized the importance of the condition of the heart. For
example, in talking with the Pharisees, He told them, “. . . a
tree is recognized by its fruit. You brood of vipers, how can
you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow
of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:33, 34; see also
Matthew 5:28; 6:21; 15:19; Luke 10:27, 28; Hebrews 4:12).
We must admit, however, that “purity of heart” is not a
popular topic for conversation today. For that reason, some
background material on purity of heart will be helpful. We
find a good example in the Psalms: “I cried out to him with
my mouth; his praise was on my tongue. If I had cherished
sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened; but God
has surely listened and heard my voice in prayer.” (Psalm
66:17-19). From the New Testament we’ll look at a wellknown
chapter: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of
angels, but have not love, I am only a sounding gong or a
clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can
fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith
that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If
I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the
flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (I Corinthians
The value of the act is judged by the condition of the
heart. We find this principle throughout Scripture. There
must be a singleness of purpose about God’s will. The voice
of the heart and the translation to the act must tell the same
story. Bad motives cancel out good actions.
We read about Cain, the first son of Adam and Eve. He
presented an offering to God. However, he had sin in his
heart that he did not want to acknowledge or confess before
God. Therefore, God could not accept his offering (Genesis
4:6, 7; I John 3:11, 12). King David sinned greatly in taking
Bathsheba, wife of Uriah, and then having Uriah fatally
exposed during a desperate battle. Nathan the Prophet confronted
him with his transgression. In the opening verses of
Psalm 51, David pleads with God in repentance: “Have
mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according
to your great compassion blot out my transgression.
Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”
Not only did David pray about the past; he plead with
God about the future: “Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” (Psalm 51:1, 2, 10).
David was saying, “I need purity of heart. Give me singleness
of purpose for the will of God in my life. Then connect
my heart to my actions.” How often that prayer resonates in
our own lives. It is a constant need for all of us.
In the New Testament we see the same perspective. We
noticed how Jesus censured the teachers of the law and
Pharisees because of hypocrisy. Their lives were a cover-up
for the real condition of their hearts (Matthew 23:27, 28).
Here in Matthew chapter five, Jesus elaborated some more.
Sin is not just gross, outward actions. It is a matter of the
heart and its motives that may not surface in overt acts. He
said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit
adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman
lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his
heart.” (Matthew 5:27, 28).
Jesus reminds us that God knows our hearts; there is no
hiding our true intentions from Him. Listen to His words:
“The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were
sneering at Jesus. He said to them, ‘You are the ones who
justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your
hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in
God’s sight.’ ” (Luke 16:13-15; see also Psalm 139:1-4).
Those who are “pure in heart” will see God. That means
those who have committed the core of their being into proper
relationship with God can have interaction with Him. They
are in touch with the Eternal. They are living in eternity with
pure heart motives and daily actions. The standard that Jesus
announced, Blessed are the pure in heart, reinforced the need
for radical change—one requiring a new birth. It was not a
self-help program, reformation, turning over a new leaf, or
an adjustment to our personalities. A new birth is necessary
because of our sinful condition.
New life is necessary to produce a pure heart as the original
is beyond repair. It can only come from God. “But now a
righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made
known, to which the law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness
from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all
who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and
fall short of the Glory of God, and are justified freely by his
grace.” (Romans 3:21-24). The fact of our sinfulness should
bring us to the end of ourselves and into God’s mercy.
We are all dependent on God’s mercy. Jesus’ statement
about the heart reveals the true nature of Kingdom membership.
It is the result of the relationship that changes the heart:
We are related to the King as His children. Since we can do
nothing to merit God’s mercy, this releases us from anxiety
that comes from failed human efforts. Since its God’s doing,
we can rest assured it won’t fall apart.
The Apostle John pointed out the attributes of this relationship.
It is not begun or ended by death. Living in eternity
is a present reality that does not cease at the close of our life
on earth. So the Apostle said, look at the great privilege that
is ours to be called God’s children. We see Him now and we
shall also see Him at the end of this age. We are His—both
now and forever.
That, John said, places within us a great hope that encourages
us to be pure in heart. “How great is the love the
Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children
of God! And that is what we are! Dear Friends, now we are
children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made
known. But we know that when he appears, we shall be like
him, for we shall see him as he is. Everyone who has this
hope in him purifies himself, just as he is pure.” (I John
3:1-3). While we look confidently into the future, being
“pure in heart” is going to break out in our living today.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the
sons of God.” Jesus shifted the subject from purity of heart
(internal) to being peacemakers (external). His teaching on
this must be understood within the context of the entire passage,
Matthew 5-7. Jesus had been talking about the broken
relationship that existed between mankind and God. Consequently,
human relationships were also corrupted and
broken. The seventh chapter ends with Jesus’ plea for people
to accept His evaluation of their condition and avoid
judgment. Many people of His time had missed God’s
eternal purpose. They did not want to admit what was really
wrong: Sin was the center of the problem.
The Apostle Paul chronicled sin’s devastation in the book
of Romans. Beginning in chapter one, Paul detailed the
effects of sin on all humanity. God’s anger at the absence of
human sorrow and repentance over that sin was disclosed
(Romans 1:18-33). Paul went on to review that throughout
history mankind has been at war with God. This is how he
began the inventory of sin: “The wrath of God is being
revealed from heaven against all godlessness and wickedness
of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since
what may be known about God is plain to them . . . For
although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God
nor gave thanks to him.” (Romans 1:18-21).
In the next eleven verses, the Apostle detailed the sinfulness
of mankind. But, he said, there is a way out of this
conflict with the Creator. “Since we have been justified
through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord
Jesus Christ.” And, “When we were God’s enemies, we were
reconciled to him through the death of His Son.” (Romans
5:1, 10, 11).
In effect, Paul was explaining the condition of people
who had heard what Jesus announced in Matthew 5 and had
acted on it. Jesus declared that relationship with God is
possible. The war is over. We have peace with God. His
invitation to be a part of His Kingdom is open to everyone,
everywhere. He is still saying, “Come unto me and I will
give you rest.” But more than that, as His children He
expects us to share the good news to others who need the
This is remarkable. Jesus said here that as members of
God’s Kingdom, we can and are expected to help others find
peace with God. Later with His twelve disciples, Jesus
expanded on this. Using the analogy of a grapevine, He said
it was His intention that we bear fruit. That means He wants
us to reproduce and bring others into relationship with God.
At the same time, Jesus disclosed the process. The branch
(that’s us) must be attached to the vine (Jesus). “I am the
vine; you are the branches. If a (person) remains in me and I
in him (her), he (she) will bear much fruit; apart from me you
can do nothing.” (John 15:1-6).
We can’t accomplish anything by ourselves, but He
makes it possible: It’s through Him and His Word. He said,
“If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask
whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is my
Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit showing yourselves
to be my disciples.” (John 15:7,8). In the context of Matthew
5:9 (becoming peacemakers), we begin to see the picture.
Jesus fully expects Kingdom members to be doing something
while here on earth—bringing others into “peace with
God.” While we are brought into relationship with God to
have fellowship with Him and with others, that is not the end
of it. God has work to do!
Jesus again set the example. He put Himself completely
into the work the Father gave Him to do. What was that?
“For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to
do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him
who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given
me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is
that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall
have eternal life.” (John 6:38-40).
John the Baptist was an early example of being a “peacemaker.”
He went out and preached, “Repent for the kingdom
of heaven is at hand.” (Matthew 3:1-6). John had already
taken the steps into relationship. He had come to peace with
God. He was determined to introduce others into that same
peace. So he preached and baptized those who repented.
Eventually, His preaching cost him his life.
The Apostle Paul followed in John’s footsteps, including
giving up his life for the sake of being a peacemaker. Paul
explained what this business of reconciliation is all about:
“All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through
Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation . . . and he
has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are
therefore, God’s ambassadors, as though God were making
his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be
reconciled to God.” (II Corinthians 5:18-20).
Isn’t this incredible? First, God invites us into relationship
with Him through Jesus. Then he allows us to participate
with Him in bringing others to Him and into His
Kingdom. We are called “God’s ambassadors, children of
God, branches” on the Divine vine, “My disciples, peacemakers”—
all to identify the expectations that Jesus has of
members of His Kingdom. As we understand from the lives
of John and Paul, this can lead to painful consequences.
“Blessed are you when people . . . persecute you . . .
because of me.” With these words, Jesus unveils the final
element of Kingdom membership: The price that is often
paid for being “peacemakers.” For many, like the Apostles
and others, it cost them their lives. This is not the outcome
we would naturally seek. In fact, in our culture the avoidance
of pain ranks high on everyone’s list of good things.
Jesus, of course, gave the ultimate example: Sinless, He
bore our sins on the cross. “But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment
that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we
are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us
has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the
iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53: 5, 6). His suffering was done
to bring us into eternal relationship with God since our sin
prevented us from bridging the gap. Being the Son of God,
He was the only person who could take away the sin of the
world. That requirement is based on two undeniable facts:
1. The consequence of sin is eternal; and
2. God’s holiness is infinite.
Therefore, reconciling sinful humanity with God (bringing
peace) required an infinite, eternally effectual sacrifice.
The requirement for an eternal and perfect sacrifice is explained
by the writer of the book of Hebrews. “When Christ
came . . . he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle
that is not man-made, that is to say, not part of this
creation. He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and
calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by
his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption . . . How
much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the
eternal spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse
our consciences from the acts that lead to death, so that we
may serve the living God!” (Hebrews 9:11-15; also
11:24-28). The writer is saying that only a member of the
Triune God could bring everlasting peace. Nothing from the
created world, corrupted by sin, could lift anyone above the
corrup-tion. It required someone of infinite capacity to lift us
above and out of our sin into that eternal relationship.
Human effort and activity can’t reconcile people to God.
If we think it can, we either don’t understand our sinfulness
or believe God’s holiness. There were righteous prophets in
the Old Testament who suffered, some being executed as was
recounted by the writer of Hebrews. “And what more shall I
say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson,
Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets . . . Others were
tortured and refused to be released . . . Some faced jeers and
flogging, while still others were chained and put in
prison.” (Hebrews 11:32-36; see Matthew 5:12).
Despite their righteous acts and sacrifice of earthly goods
and life, those people cannot reconcile us to God. God’s
holiness and our sin create an infinite gap that cannot be
bridged from our side of the separation. Like the prophets
and John the Baptist, we can only point to Jesus and say,
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the
world.” (John 1:29; see Isaiah 53:6).
This explains the necessity for Jesus suffering and death.
If Jesus was rejected and crucified because of the life He
lived to bring humanity to God, what can we expect? For
similar acts of righteousness, Jesus tells us, we will be persecuted
(Matthew 5:10). It is inevitable. Let’s not forget that
we are at war. Anytime we move against Satan’s kingdom,
there is bound to be opposition. Jesus cautions us to be sure
that it is for righteousness’ sake we are suffering—not due to
our own self-will and ambition (Matthew 5:11).
As you finish reading this chapter, perhaps you are saying
to yourself: “I don’t have this peace with God. I have
never entered into this relationship with Him.” I tell you with
great confidence that you are at the right place to enter.