Let us pray: Dear Savior, just as our bodies are joined to our hearts, so our Christian faith is joined to our words and actions. To believe one thing and say or do the opposite means we’re living at odds with ourselves and with You. Lord, prevent us from doing that! Through Your powerful word of truth, regenerate us, make us alive in You and Your ways alone. For only then will we have peace inside our troubled hearts. Amen
GRACE MERCY AND PEACE ARE YOURS FROM CHRIST, THE GIVER OF ALL PERFECT GIFTS!
TEXT: James 1: 16-18
Fellow Redeemed Sinners:
“You must be born again to enter the kingdom of God.”—Remember when Christ said that to Nicodemus? You know that Jesus isn’t telling Nicodemus that he has to try to go back and crawl inside his mother’s womb. No, Christ is telling him that to be a blest child of God, he must be regenerated! He must undergo a radical transformation at the hand of God Almighty. He must get rid of the sinful, worldly attitude about life that he was born with, and must adopt a Godly attitude. An attitude best expressed by Christ Himself in the beatitudes from His sermon on the mount. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, blessed are the merciful, blessed are the pure in heart, blessed are the peacemakers, blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness.”
Some of you are familiar with the Maltese Cross, which was originated by the Knights of St. John on the isle of Malta. It has 8 points and takes its shape from those 8 “blessed are’s” from the Beatitudes. Each point is meant to convey one truth. And since such true inner blessedness results only from Godly regeneration; and since St. John speaks of that regeneration by recording Christ’s conversation with Nicodemus, the knights who bore his name fashioned that uniquely shaped cross. Today we shall talk about such truths by examining our lesson under this theme:
BIRTHMARKS OF THE BLESSED….
One of the hard truths of Christianity is that we’re all sinners. That means we cannot regenerate ourselves. The problem is: in pride we all try to do exactly that, and those attempts always end in death. The great New England writer, Nathanael Hawthorne, has a story about this. It’s called: “The Birthmark.” It chronicles the life of a famed scientist named: Aylmer and his new wife: Georgiana. She has fabulously beautiful. But she had a small birthmark on her face shaped like a human hand. Aylmer became increasingly obsessed with that birthmark. He was convinced he could remove it. Finally, she agreed and he tried. But during the surgery, that simple procedure produced horrible results. She died! In his obsession, he destroyed the very thing he loved so much. He learned the hard truth that: we humans cannot remake ourselves.
Unfortunately, people never seem to learn that lesson. In the visible Christian church, yes even among us here today, are basically two types of people who possess the same traits as those that Christ was addressing. The first group are those who take after the Pharisees of the bible. Such people outwardly are very religious. They act just right. They live according to the commandments. But, their hearts are really not in it. Their hearts are not truly humble. Faith is merely an excuse to show of their human holiness.—It is those type of people that Christ addresses in the Beatitudes. In other words, blessings come from a heart purified by the blood of Christ. A heart which clings to Him and does for Him out of pure love. A heart which does not seek human honor in the process.
The second kind of person present today is the one James speaks of in our text. In the verses preceding our lesson James writes to Christians who are beginning to forget how God wants his reborn people to live. They were grumbling when confronted by trials and temptations to such an extent that their commitment was wavering. They became cliquish, quick with the tongue, proud, envious, and ambitious. They were overly impressed by the rich and influential, perhaps thinking that these people could further Christ’s cause much more than the poor. In other words, they said they had faith, and boasted about it, but their works didn’t reflect what Christ wants that faith to be. It is to these folks that James issues that famous statement: “Faith without works is dead.”
And that brings us to our second point: It is God alone who gives new birth! Listen again to vs. 18: “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first-fruits of all He created.”
God wills our rebirth. He wants something better for us than a life without a heart, or a heart without a life. And so He placed His birthmark on us through His holy Word when we were baptized. And continuously, throughout our lives, He adds color to that birthmark so that it won’t fade away. How? “Through the word of truth.” Through the Gospel! Through the good news that God loves us so much that He gave His life for ours on the cross in order to save us! All this is yours through faith. Heaven is yours through faith. Peace with God and with yourself is yours through faith. And such Spirit-wrought faith certainly will wish to show itself in what you think, say, and do.
The Birthmarks of the blessed will always show themselves! And those 8 points on the Maltese Cross are an excellent reminder of what they are and how they reveal themselves. 1. is being poor in spirit. That is, you cannot make it through life on your own. James learned that the hard way. He was Christ’s brother, a son of Mary and Joseph. Early in his life he didn’t believe his brother was the Son of God. He was embarrassed by Christ and the attention His miracles caused. So when did he change? When was he reborn? When did he receive his birthmark of the blessed? I Cor. 15:7 gives us a clue. “Then the resurrected Lord appeared to James.” Apparently Christ sought out His brother after His resurrection, and the power of that Easter day changed James from the inside out. So much so that he became a fearless champion for Christ and the president of the believers in Jerusalem! 2. speaks of those who mourn. Why are mourners blest? When are mourners blest?—When they cry over their own sins and look to their Savior for help instead of trying to solve everything alone. 3. speaks of the meek. Humble people are blest people. And humbleness is the willingness to admit that “maybe I don’t know it all and maybe I’m wrong!” 4. focuses on those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. They don’t boast of their deeds. Their lives are tainted by sin. Instead they look to Christ and want to put on His holy righteousness. For them it is never “I” or “me”—not it is always: Christ! The 5th point speaks of those who are merciful. That is, kind and forgiving. Those willing to put the best construction on the words and actions of others instead of knee-jerking into negatives and flying off the handle. The 6th point denotes the pure in heart. They are filled with love for their fellow humans and they always try to show it—even if their flesh doesn’t really want to. We can also call such people: self-sacrificing. The 7th point of the Maltese Cross mentions peacemakers. Real peace is achieved only when we bow our pride to Christ and let Him rule. The 8th point speaks of those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake. Standing up for Jesus and trying to do the right thing will always elicit a certain amount of opposition. Sin is powerful in this world. Pride is powerful. But when we try to do the right thing on the basis of God’s Word and people get angry—don’t despair! It confirms your faith even more.
Now that you’ve heard that, ask yourself: Are you born again? Then let it show! Don’t break off the points of the Maltese Cross. Instead, give glory to God for working in you “both to will and to do His good pleasure.” And take comfort that our God “doesn’t change His mind or His will toward you like shifting shadows!” Indeed, He desperately wants you to act the role which He has made for you: being the first-fruits, the best, in all creation. Wear your Birthmark of the Blessed with honor! Live up to your high calling as sons and daughters of the Almighty King! Amen