Sometimes, when we look at the injustice in the world, we can be tempted to complain. “If only we had better leaders, less corrupt politicians, a stronger government, or better policies”. We can even complain to God, “Why do you allow this to happen, can’t you do something?” The Christian political activist, Jim Wallis, calls that way of dealing with global and social issues “the politics of complaint.” Complaining about the state of the world is a temptation for all of us. We often want someone else to solve the issues that bug us without any active involvement ourselves.
I wonder if this was the trap the disciples fell into when they asked Jesus in Acts 1:6 “….Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” All of Israel was looking for a deliverer. They were living in troubled times in a troubled nation. So the disciples wanted to know when Jesus would powerfully and miraculously intervene in their political affairs. Imagine their consternation when Jesus refused to answer the question and instead told them he was going to empower them to be his witnesses (Acts 1:8). Rather than providing immediate political deliverance, Jesus instead invited the disciples to participate in bringing God’s reign of justice and deliverance to the world.
1. The Purpose of Empowerment (Isaiah 61:1-11)
We can tend to see the promise of the Holy Spirit in Acts 1:8 as a way to meet personal spiritual needs and we can divorce the promised empowering from a sense of missional responsibility. However, Jesus’ promise of empowerment to the disciples reflects his own empowerment by the Holy Spirit. We are sent as Jesus was sent (John 20:21). His purpose is also our purpose. So let’s look a bit deeper at the reason Jesus was filled with the Spirit.
After, the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus in baptism, Jesus returned in the power of the Spirit and preached his first message in Galilee (Luke 4:14-21). His text was Isaiah 61:1-3. Through this passage, he explicitly states the purpose of empowerment—“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because of this …” (Luke 4:18). Jesus then outlines how he was empowered by the Spirit to bring good news to the poor, the broken-hearted, the captives, the oppressed, the enslaved and the indebted.
In Acts 1:8, Jesus passes that commissioning on to his disciples. He was empowering them to do what they were looking to him to do—he was sending the Holy Spirit to enable them to complete what he had started—a mission of proclaiming and demonstrating good news to the poor, the broken-hearted and the captives. He was empowering them to participate in his mission.
2. Empowered to Participate (Matthew 5:3-12)
In the beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12), Jesus makes our participation in the mission of Isaiah 61:1-11 even more clear. The first four beatitudes (Mt 5:3-6) are a prophetic statement that God (in Jesus) will bless the poor, the broken hearted, the meek and those who hunger for justice. Much of the language and structure directly reflects that of Isaiah 61:1-11. The next four beatitudes (Mt 5:7-10) invite the hearers to participate in this prophetic mission by showing mercy, practicing purity of heart, working towards peace and being persecuted for the sake of justice. These four beatitudes read as an invitation to take part in Jesus mission of blessing the poor, broken-hearted and oppressed with mercy, truth, peace and justice. They are also a promise of blessing or empowerment to those who participate in Christ’s mission. The first four beatitudes show us that God has heard our complaint. The last four beatitudes suggest four ways of changing our politics of complaint into a mission of participation in what God is doing in the world.
Empowerment to Participate
5:3 Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
5:7 Blessed are the merciful for they shall be shown mercy
5:4 Blessed are those who mourn for they will be comforted
5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God
5:5 Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth
5:9 Blessed are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God
5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be filled
5:10 Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven
3. Participating by Showing Mercy to the Poor in Spirit
The fifth beatitude calls us to participate in showing mercy or loving kindness to the poor, broken and oppressed (Mt 5:7). William Barclay notes that the word mercy means a loyal love that is actualized and individualized. It is not a warm fuzzy feeling of kindness towards humanity in general, but it is an active expression of kindness to specific people in specific places as demonstrated in Jesus kindness towards the poor, the sick, and the excluded outsider. In our age of global interconnectedness, that surely includes showing kindness to our global neighbour in places such as Africa, China or India as well as Australia. It is possible to travel to most places in South-East Asia in the same time it took the Good Samaritan to walk from Jerusalem to Jericho. It is possible to travel to any of the regions of the world where we have mission’s partners in the same time it took Jesus to walk from Jerusalem to Samaria and stop at a well to show kindness to the Samaritan woman (Jn 4:1-42).
4. Participating by Comforting those how Mourn
A further practical expression of our participation in bringing God’s blessing, is through ministry to those who mourn, including the widow and the orphan. The sixth beatitude says “blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Mt 5:8). James 1:17 describes pure religion as visiting the widow and the orphan in their affliction and keeping ourselves unspotted from the world. Purity of heart is not just inner holiness; rather it is holiness that is demonstrated in our attitudes and actions to others, particularly those in difficult life circumstances. Family breakdown and death creates severe emotional and economic hardship. In the western world our welfare systems provide at least some level of economic support in these tragic circumstances. However, in developing nations such support is not there. Jesus invites us to participate in pure, undefiled religion through ministering to those who mourn at home and overseas.
5. Participating by Being a Peacemaker
The sixth beatitude (Mt 8:9) calls us to participate in God’s mission of peace-making. Jesus is our peace who broke down the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile (Eph. 2:14). In the same way we are called to break down walls that exclude and create bridges for people to cross rather than fences to keep people out. God calls us to be peace-makers not conflict creators. Just as God took the initiative in Jesus to reconcile, we need to take practical steps to reconcile with those we have offended or those who have offended us. How powerful it was when Christian victims of atrocities in the Maluku islands of Indonesia presented gifts to Muslim and Hindu victims of the Bali bombings. That is participating in God’s kind of peacemaking, and it sets an example for us in our own peace-making.
6. Participating by Working for Global Justice
Finally, the eighth beatitude and the verse following speak of being blessed when we are persecuted for righteousness sake (Mt 5:10, 11). Here Jesus is not only speaking of the righteousness that we have through faith in Christ. The word is just as easily translated justice. Along with personal salvation and right standing with God, justice also refers to the holistic restoration of just and equitable relationships in communities and nations. One example of a global justice issue is human trafficking. Slavery was legally abolished 200 years ago. Yet today in 2012 there are still an estimated 27 million men, woman and children affected by human trafficking. As a church we are seeking ways in which we can participate in working towards justice for those in slavery.
7. Complaining or Participating?
Are we complaining or participating? Sometimes it is a difficult choice. Participation can seem a whole lot harder than hoping someone else will solve the problem. But participation does not seem so burdensome when we realize that God has already taken the initiative to deliver, comfort, heal and transform. We are sent as Jesus was sent. He was empowered by the Spirit and so are we. The Father acted to prepare the way for Jesus, and he does the same for us. We don’t need to take the burden of every problem in the world on our shoulders, but we are called to align our lives with what God is already doing and identify some specific ways in which we can participate in His mission. Isaiah 61:1-11 was fulfilled in Jesus, but we have been empowered to participate in that fulfilment.
1. Read through Acts 1:6-8 and discuss what you think the disciples were expecting of Jesus after he had risen from the dead?
2. Read through Isaiah 61:1-9 and then Matthew Chapter 5:1-10 and note what similarities you discover.
3. Discuss the implications of these passages for us today.
4. Talk about ways we each can participate with Jesus in showing mercy to the poor or comfort to those who mourn in our local neighbourhood AND overseas.
5. Share an example from your own life where God has prepared the way for you to reach out to someone else and help in a practical way even at a distance.
6. Discuss what opportunities there are to become engaged with what God is doing around the world globally through various Christian ministries including CityLife’s own World Impact ministry.