How has your week been? Do you feel practically blessed by God this week, have you ever felt blessed by God, would you recognise what a blessing from God is or was?
Today’s subject in our sermon series “Learning from Jesus in Luke’s Gospel” is ‘How to be blessed’. In our reading from Luke Jesus tells us who, those who are blessed are. But before we get to the part of our reading about blessings we read in verse 12 that Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God.
1. Prayer is good for us!
So Jesus went out to the mountainside and prayed all night. Do we pray and if so do we pray enough, or do we just pray when we want something? Before I became a Christian I would pray, every time I got myself in a bit of a fix, I remember once when I was a refrigeration service engineer working on cold stores, I had to check for a refrigerant leak on a pipe that was the other side of a wall that had a small hole in it, I wriggled through the hole, found the leak repaired it, the space was only about 2 ½ feet high and there was no room to turn round so I started to wriggle backwards but I got stuck, now the thing was I was on my own and it was late in the day and no one else was on site and I started to panic, and because I was in a fix I started to pray ‘oh God get me out of here’ I became very calm and after a while tried to wriggle out again and this time I got out, but did I thank God NO it was all down to me and my claiming myself down.
Most of us only pray when we want something for ourselves or for our family or friends, On this occasion Jesus wanted guidance, guidance on who to choose as Apostils, when we have important matters to deicide do we consult God, do we pray, we should.
So what does prayer do?
A) PRAYER BUILDS OUR RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS
Prayer is a key vehicle to building our relationship with Jesus Christ. As one of my lectures would say when he wanted to get everyone’s attention – Hear me now, So please Hear me now, this is important. Christianity is not a set of rules. It is a relationship with God the Father, God the Son Jesus and God the Holy Spirit.
B) PRAYER HELPS US OVERCOME TEMPTATION
Prayer is an important instrument in our overcoming sin and temptation.
C) PRAYER HELPS US DETERMINE GOD’S WILL
Prayer is crucial in determining God’s will in our lives.
D) PRAYER ACCOMPLISHES GOD’S WORK
Prayer is a major way that we accomplish God’s work in the world, without prayer there will be failure.
E) PRAYER IS VALUABLE TO GOD
Prayer itself is fundamentally valuable to God. God views prayer as having incredible value, it shows relationship, how can you have a relationship with someone you never communicate with.
Did you notice the other thing Jesus did He gave God time. In fact He gave him all night. And we need to give God time, the Christian word for this is ‘quite time with God’, give God space in your life, have some time alone, read some scripture, play some soft worship music, pray, talk to God and wait on God.
Some times I do this, I put on some worship music, I read the Bible or a commentary, just a short bit then I start praying and sometimes I feel God saying things to me through His Holy Spirit sometimes I feel God holding me in His hand, just like this and some time I just drift off to sleep, but Bishop Steven quoting another Bishop said the other day that sometimes God can do immeasurably more with us when we are asleep than when we are awake. Jesus gave God time and we need to give God time in our lives to minster to us.
2. God has a plan!
In verse 13 we read ‘When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated, apostles. And we can see their names all listed for us. I would like to point out two things about the choosing of the apostles.
One, did God make a mistake with regard to Judas? No – we must all understand it was part of Gods plan for Jesus to die on a cross for our sin’s, for a person of the Trinity to give himself up for us, part of God’s plan because He loves as that much.
Two, by choosing Judas it shows that God has a plan and that we with our human eyes and understanding do not know that plan. So if you do pray about something and it’s not happening, don’t give up praying it may be that it is not the right time or that it does not fit in with God’s good and faithful plan.
God has a plan, how do we know this the Bible tells us, God has a plan and with that great tool of hindsight we can see God’s plan through the Bible, God told the Old Testament prophets many times what would happen and these things did happen, God said he would send Jesus and He did, believe that God has a plan, God has a plan for each one of us and for mankind, Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope”.
And the Apostle Paul says in Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose”. And there are over a 100 more times the Bible tells as that God has a plan – just ask Mr Google!
3. How to be blessed!
Next we read in verse 17-19 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coastal region around Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by impure spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.
So the people flocked to Jesus to hear what he had to say and to be cured, travel was not easy 2000 years ago, it is not easy up and down the 127 at the moment, but in Jesus time, for most people it was shanks’ pony, by foot walking all the way, now we don’t know where Jesus was but from Sidon to lake Galilee was 40 mile as the crow files and from Jerusalem to lake Galilee was over 50 miles as the crow files, and lake Galilee was the centre point between the two, so safe to say that it was a good two three days walk to get to be with Jesus. So the question for us is how far will we go for Jesus, what will we do for Him.
And what did Jesus tell them when he stood up to talk? Let’s look at verses 20 to 23 (Jesus) Looking at his disciples, he said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 23 “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. 24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.
Jesus tells those who are poor and hungry and abused to celebrate when that happens and “dance for joy”.
Why, why should they ‘dance for joy’? I believe there are two reasons:
One – because Jesus said your reward will be “great in heaven”
Two – because that is the way the prophets in the past were treated (and the way that Jesus would also be treated) and this shows that you are with Jesus and not against him, many of us have experienced rejection because we follow Jesus and we should rejoice.
At first this reading, this may seem like a classical example of religion as the ‘opium of the people’ – which is a statement made by Karl Marx the founder of Marxism. He was having a go at the universal church, charging them with keeping the poor down, accusing the church of saying, Be happy that you are having such a hard time now because there is a wonderful future waiting for you in the next world. It was the message that Karl Marx used to mock the church in what he described as preaching to the exploited. Some may have used Jesus words for their own designs but that is not the meaning of what Jesus is saying.
Today we have a defiant message that most of the world is expressing be happy, look after number one, don’t wait for heaven, don’t worry if there is a God you can have it all now, and Jesus says about that view – ”Woe to you who are rich, you have received your comfort already.” “Woe to you who are full, because you will be hungry; woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep; woe to you who are spoken well of. That is how they treated the false prophets.” In short woe to you who look to self or only your family, woe to you who reject my love, woe to you who reject my people.
How are we to understand these sayings which turn our common worldview upside down? I think they have to be seen in the light of the Kingdom of God, in the kind of society that Jesus came to set up, a society based on mutual love, sharing and support. A Kingdom for this world and not just the next.
The coming of such a society could only be good news for the poor and destitute (spiritually and material), for those suffering from hunger (spiritually and physical), for those depressed by deep sorrow and for those abused and rejected for their commitment to Jesus and his Way.
On the other hand it would not be good news for those self-focused people who amass material wealth at the expense of others, who indulge in excessive consumption of the world’s goods, who live lives centred on personal pleasure-seeking and who feed off the envy and adulation of those around them.
There is really no place for such people in the Kingdom of God. To enter fully into the Kingdom they have to unload all these concerns and obsessions and let go. Instead of focusing on what they can get; they need to focus on what they can share of what they have and to follow Jesus.
A clear example is of the rich young man in the Gospel. How rich he was – and yet how sad he was! In Mark 10:17-31 it tells of a Rich Young Man, in short the Bible tells of a young man that run up to Jesus and knelt before him and said, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honour your father and mother.’” And the young man must have thought I have nailed it and he said ‘all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him,
“You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Depressed the young man went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How difficult it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”
Now compare the young man to Zacchaeus, in Luke 19:1-10, so Jesus was passing through in Jericho and his fame was going before him and this guy Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, now Zacchaeus had two problems he was short and he was the chief tax collector which meant that he was not liked in the community.
Not put off Zac run in front of the crowd and climb a tree, so when Jesus got to this point on the road he looked up and said to Zac, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.” so Zac got down and welcomed Jesus, now this was very counter cultural and the people were grumbling “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.”
But old Zac he was overcome by the love Jesus showed him and wanted to fellow Jesus, so Zac said “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” And 9 Jesus said “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Who was the most blessed the young man or Zac the tax collector who gave away at least half of his possessions and followed Jesus. Who was Mr Happy at the end of the day, funny enough it was the man who gave away more than half his wealth.
So in wraping up. A question “Do you want God’s blessing in your life?” Of course, we all instinctively want to answer, “Yes, of course I do!” But before you answer so quickly, stop and think about it.
How you answer that question will make a huge difference in how you live.
The person living for God’s blessing has deliberately decided to reject the world’s values and to live under the lordship of Jesus as King, to accept God’s Holy Spirit into their lives, they are turning their backs on this fleeting world and its pleasures, they are living in light of eternity.
Letting go of self and turning their back on the me, me culture, they have asked Jesus into their lives to be there Lord and saviour for salvation from God’s judgment and for sustenance in this life.
So, ask yourself, “Do I want God’s blessing on my life?” It’s the only way to live happily ever after. Jesus tells you how to have it: Live for God’s kingdom and reject the world’s values.
So the question was – how to be blessed. The answer, by being in relationship with Jesus through the Holy Spirit, through prayer, through listening to God, giving God time in our lives, through reading His word, through trusting that God has a plan, through going that extra mile for Jesus, through following the one true God who is Father Son and Holy Spirit.
I would just like to close in prayer: Father God thank you that you love us so much that you are willing to bless us when we turn to you and follow you, Lord through your Son Jesus and your Holy Spirit help us to follow you more closely all the days of our lives, so that we may be blessed by you and bless others in return. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.