3rd world citizens

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We all care about the poor.

The desperately hungry. Without a home and living on the streets. The people bashed and robbed. Socially ostracised. Those drinking muddy, unpurified water. Nothing at all in their possession except the clothes on their backs. Sick to death.

We all pity such people. We feel sorry for how they live. So we donate money, clothes, water towards their villages. Set up organisations. Raise awareness. All in an attempt to help people in need.

But none of us envy their lifestyles. A safe assumption I hope.

The life of someone in poverty isn’t exactly the peak of the human experience. You would have to be out of your mind to desire this life.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” – Jesus

And then Jesus goes and says that. What the heck.

These were his first words in The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7). If you know anything about speeches and essays, introductions are used to set the scene and grab attention. Jesus must have been very aware of these factors. His first sentence alone is shocking. 

Picture it with me. The disciples are waiting as Jesus prepares to talk. Religious dudes gather expectantly for inside knowledge on how to perform miracles, or how to get into God’s good books. Intrigued locals join the crowd to hear from this amazing teacher. Everyone is hanging on his first words.

And then for some crazy reason, Jesus starts by promising poor people the kingdom of heaven. Talk would’ve run riot in the town. If newspapers were a thing, they would’ve gone bezerk. Social media would’ve been in absolute overdrive.

The prerequisite to citizenship in heaven is to be poor in spirit. God’s kingdom is promised to poor people.

Crazy stuff.  

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Malcolm Turnbull came under fire recently.

The Australian PM was spotted giving $5 to a poor man on the streets of Melbourne. On the surface, it seemed like a nice gesture. However, news outlets and social media went nuts when they discovered Mr.Turnbull was clutching a stack of notes in his left hand. People were quick to label him greedy and selfish.

The hypocrisy in much of the criticisms of Mr.Turnbull are very real. I’d suggest 99% of those voicing hate against Mr.Turnbull for this act should take a hard look at themselves.

But the fact remains. There is disappointment that with so much money in his possession, Malcolm could only manage $5. That the leader of our people, seeing the poorest in his society, gave that which wouldn’t cost him much.

Whether or not you are critical of Mr.Turnbull is irrelevant. My point is this. Jesus sees the poorest in his society and promises the absolute maximum in return. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 

Dead set ridiculous. Jesus promises everything to people who have nothing. To put this into perspective, it would be like Mr.Turnbull giving $100 million to the homeless man. We are on that sort of scale of crazy.

But to get the reward, we are called to be poor in spirit. Is Jesus telling us to be desperately hungry? Vulnerable and on the streets? Are we being told be sick and thirsty and homeless and posses nothing – all for the sake of heaven?

That’s ludicrous. That’s insane.

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WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE POOR IN SPIRIT?

‘Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.’ – 2 Corinthians 8:9

In understanding what poor in spirit means, it makes sense to look at how Jesus treated poor people. Unsurprisingly, one of the most defining features of Jesus was the way he sought the lost (Luke 19:10).

Jesus welcomed in the outcasts. Gave lasting food to the poor and helpless. Jesus invited people despised by the world over for dinner. Those with leprosy and blindness he came into contact with. He healed them. He talked with them (Matthew 11:5).

He came into their world when nobody else would.

Jesus, the very definition of sinless and perfect, consistently and intentionally came into contact with disgraceful sinners (Matthew 9:10). But Jesus didn’t just come into contact with poor people. He identified with them.

Jesus came from a small village, born to a poor couple in a lowly animal stable. He wasn’t too high and mighty for work – heck, he laboured for years as a carpenter. The very Son of God lived and breathed amongst poor people. He understood everyday struggles. He didn’t remove himself from pain – quite the opposite.

Surely this tells us something about how God intended to reach the world.

“Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home” – Jesus

Jesus said this to a paralysed man.

So you can see how crazy this statement is. Jesus literally told someone who physically can’t walk to do exactly that. Walk.

Try telling someone in a wheelchair to just get up and walk next time you’re in public. See how that works out for you. You might just experience the miracle of a backhand to the face.

Yet immediately after Jesus said this, a man who had never used his legs before stood up and walked (Mark 2:1-12). Let’s just appreciate how cool that is for a second. Just ridiculous.

But that’s not the only ridiculous thing about this situation.

Back in the day, sickness was considered a punishment for disobedience. It was a common belief that God inflicted sickness upon people as result of sin. Such people living in sickness were often despised and not allowed to live in community with anyone, not even their own family (Numbers 5:2).

Sin had to be expelled from the community so the people could stay clean.

Yet for some reason this Jesus dude felt like it was okay to welcome in a sick, poor and sinful person. So sin had now polluted the community. Great. Thanks a lot Jesus.

But in a mad plot twist, Jesus defies all laws of physics and medical expertise and just heals the man of his sickness. The people were in utter disbelief. It would’ve been like watching someone discover the cure to cancer. This was significant.

Why did Jesus heal this poor, sick and sinful man?

Through this situation, Jesus was sticking up his hand as the solution to the crippling disease of sin. This Jesus was sticking his hand up as God himself. No other explanation would suffice. Who else could be so perfect as to heal someone of imperfection?

No longer would people have to be expelled from the community. Sin that once left humanity paralysed had now met its cure.

Jesus.

Isn’t Christianity just a crutch for those who can’t make it themselves?

A common criticism of Christianity. Funny thing is, we actually agree with it.

John Piper (in a sermon) highlights an interesting thing about this criticism and labelling of our ‘crutch’ as being problematic. He suggested that nobody looks at an injured person with a crutch, and identifies the crutch as being problematic.

The crutch is the solution, isn’t it? 

Here’s where the problem lies. If Christianity is a crutch, then it is only good for cripples. And many people don’t consider themselves cripples. And so it is therefore offensive to an individual’s self- sufficiency to be labelled as needing help.

This is why Jesus is so counter cultural.

Jesus came to provide himself as the crutch for all. The solution to our deepest sickness.

Humanity was paralysed in sin. But through Jesus death on the cross, our greatest sickness is dealt with. As a result we can boldly approach God. Full confidence in the saving power of our crutch, which allows us to walk in the ways of our Father.

And this completely contrasts our way of thinking.

If we want a job, we work hard and present ourselves well. If we want to be better at sport, we train harder. If we want to get better grades, we study harder. If we want to get anywhere in life, it takes our own effort.

Then Jesus comes along and flips it. To be poor in spirit is to realise the state of our sickness without Jesus. To be poor in spirit is understanding that before God, we have nothing to give. All the work Jesus has already done.

It is finished. 

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PULL UP A SEAT

My Dad wrote a letter when I was born. In this letter he explains the reasons behind choosing my name – and qualities he hoped I would cling to.

Dad used the biblical Jonathan as an example of holding high the qualities of loyalty and friendship in my life. Jonathan was a very loyal man, who had a strong friendship with David. However, Dad suggests (in his letter) it is what comes of their friendship that is equally significant.

Eventually Jonathan died. To honour the deep friendship David once shared with his friend, he found a lone descendant from Jonathan’s line, a cripple called Mephibosheth. To this lowly, dishonoured man he gave the right to eat at the king’s table from that day on (2 Samuel 9).

Because of David and Jonathan’s strong relationship, a man lowly and crippled was given access to eat at the King’s table.

‘God has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence…’ – Colossians 1:22

Jesus has a perfect relationship with God.

And by extension, Jesus death and resurrection brings us into the presence of the King. Into the very presence of God. God invites us to eat at his table because of the deep relationship shared with Jesus Christ.

Lowly, hungry, flawed and crippled in sin – yet God chooses us to eat with him. Through Jesus work on the cross, we can claim our seat at the table.

“Tell a broken, crippled and dying world that they may come and eat at the King’s table.”

Pull up a seat.

 

Jesus: Really Satisfies

 

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Snickers have an awesome marketing team.

In one of their ads, an old man is attempting to pull off a big jump on his motorbike. Yes you heard me right. But the old dude is super confident about his chances. He thinks he has the jump covered. However, in a twist of events, old dude starts to lose control of his bike. He takes off from the jump but, you guessed it, he fails miserably. He face-plants into the ground.

Eventually a mate walks over and hands the old man a Snickers bar, because he “becomes a cranky old man when he’s hungry.” The old man angrily takes the bar, and after taking a bite, instantly morphs into a young man. He has become a new man. No longer hungry – he is back to his normal self and ready to hit the jump again. The commercial ends with their simple catch-line:

“You’re not you when you’re hungry. Snickers really satisfies.”

I think a round of applause is in order. That’s the sort of advertising we turn the television on for. That’s the sort of commercial we all want in-between overs of the cricket. Inspirational stuff.

No I’m not a Snickers salesman in disguise. This is going somewhere. Stick with me here.

“I am the bread of life” – Jesus

Like the Snickers advert, Jesus claims to fill our deepest hunger. Jesus claims to be really satisfying. And Jesus used bread as his analogy of being satisfied.

I know. Disappointing stuff.

Of all the things to compare yourself with, Jesus calls himself bread. Boring old bread. Not the pizza of life. Not the cheeseburger of life. Not the snickers of life. The bread of life.

Shoutout to all you gluten free people out there. Sometimes I wonder what goes through your minds when Jesus calls himself the bread of life. You the real MVP.

The question remains: why did Jesus equate himself to bread?

Let’s get a roll on.

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FOOD FOR LIFE

“I am the living bread…anyone who eats of this bread will live forever, and this bread, which I offer so the world may live, is my flesh” – Jesus

Our basic human right.

When we’re talking the most basic rights, sufficient food and adequate water supply is deadly important (literally). Forget other social issues that the media like to give more weight to. Food and water is the most basic, necessary, vital human need.

Now we’ve got to understand some context. Bread was to the Jews what rice is to Asia. Their staple diet. The food most routinely eaten. It took up a dominant portion of their regular food consumption, providing the required energy needs to that certain group of people.

So by equating himself to bread, Jesus is saying he is essential for life. A basic human right that all people should have access to. Vital in growth and development.

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Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (pictured above) aims to understand what motivates people.

His theory was that people are motivated to achieve certain needs. When one need is fulfilled, a person seeks to fulfil the next one, and so on. The needs start at the very basic level (Physiological) and work up to the top (Self-Actualisation). Some pyramids add another level on top, Transcendence, which is essentially seeking to help others reach their potential.

Many people have often labelled life as The Pursuit of Happiness.

For the most part, I think it’s pretty spot on. We generally try to fill our lives with things we enjoy. I doubt many people leave home each day intentionally looking for ways to increase their sadness. We all have a deep need for belonging. Good friendships, relationships, family. We try to fill our lives with things we enjoy doing. Activities that are fun. Things that challenge us.

Essentially, we are up in the top three tiers of the pyramid. Satisfying the needs that only privileged people can reach. But these are all secondary issues

Jesus saw a people starving themselves spiritually. He saw a people that thought pretty highly of themselves, yet bypassing their most basic needs. Avoiding their basic need for him whilst trying to climb to the top of the pyramid.

I’ll say this once: we are never going to reach the top of the pyramid without a solid foundation (Matthew 7:24-27). All we have worked for, that pyramid we climb, will come crashing down at our final breath.

Death puts an end to all pursuits of happiness. Mankind has its fate sealed. Everything we enjoy now is just temporary. The wages of sin are death (Romans 6:23), and death separated us from God.

Morbid stuff.

But Jesus had intense compassion on the human situation (John 3:16). He saw a people doomed for death and chasing secondary issues. He loved the world so much that he provided the solution to our mess.

Himself. 

“Give us today our daily bread” – Jesus

This was pretty cheeky of Jesus.

The disciples had just asked Jesus how they should pray. He responded with what we affectionately know as The Lord’s Prayer, which includes the words “give us today our daily bread.”

Some might have (justifiably) thought Jesus was talking about actual, physical bread. But Jesus wasn’t talking about actual bread here. He was referring to himself.

Jesus was essentially rehashing the same awesome message: I am your staple diet – come to me regularly. I am your basic human right, let me grow and develop you into the person you were made to be. I am the provider of all the energy and motivation you could need. I am the solid foundation that your life needs to be built upon.

I am.

Jesus provided himself as the bread for all – that we could be completely satisfied through him. Whoever comes to him will never hunger again (John 6:35).

That through him we would have life, and have it to the full (John 10:10).

It is no coincidence that God uses bread as a symbol of his provision throughout history.

The feeding of the 5000. 

People have flocked from everywhere to see Jesus. To hear his teachings, talk or be healed by him. Everyone just can’t get enough of this Jesus. Time passes. The huge crowd eventually grow hungry. The disciples, seeing the obvious dilemma regarding the food-to-people ratio, suggest Jesus should send the people home so they can buy their own food.

Jesus, not known for following the rules of physics, feeds the thousands with just five loaves and two fish. Just another day at the office for the Son of God.

The disciples and the crowd are obviously amazed. Gobsmacked. Somehow Jesus managed to feed a huge crowd from an extremely little amount of food.

What was the creed behind Jesus doing this?

On this particular day, Jesus was providing for the people’s physical need for bread. But through this situation, Jesus calls all people to a type of bread that doesn’t perish (John 6:27). That doesn’t make them hungry again. He is the bread that gives life, that truly satisfies.

Jesus doesn’t just call himself the bread of life and then fail to provide bread. What a massive disappointment that would be.

Jesus demonstrates here that there are no limits to his provision. There are no limits to his power. Everyone can eat of his bread and be satisfied.

Heck, there are even leftovers.

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THE BIG PICTURE

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” – Jesus

Cast your minds back to the Snickers commercial.

We have a big jump ahead of us. Life. We try to satisfy our lives with all types of things. Relationships. Good times. Success. Everything is going great. We start revving our engines towards the ramp. Everything is cool. Everything is under control.

Until we actually hit the jump.

The jump proves too big for anyone to make. Humanity always falls short of the mark.

Forget climate change. Forget the economy. Forget equality. The biggest problem the world faces today is death. Nobody avoids death, everyone falls victim to it. None of us can build a ramp and jump over death. Everyone that tries ends up face-planting into the ground. Confused. Angry. Hurt. Dirty. Hopeless.

Enter Jesus.

He finds humanity in its mess. Caring so much for the world he comes and extends a hand to us. Offering life. Full of compassion he meets us in the dust. Expressing his deep longing that we stop filling ourselves with that which only he can satisfy.

And when we take up his offer, we become a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). We become like a new person. We take part in the greatest testimony anyone could ever have: that we are not saved from death, but through it.

That ramp which once limited us is now not even an obstacle. The gap has been bridged.

Jesus: eternally satisfying. 

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