Interview with

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Audio Transcript

#blessed — It’s a social media tag for when someone feels blessed and who has, or is getting, everything they’ve dreamed of getting. It can range from getting a new girlfriend, a new job, or a pay raise, to finding a ten-dollar bill on the sidewalk or getting surprisingly good news. But what does it mean to truly be blessed according to Scripture? Now that’s a different discussion, one initiated by a discerning listener to the podcast named Jordan.

“Pastor John, hello! Of late I have been having discussions with my friends around what it means to be blessed. The term blessed is thrown around in our culture today, and it’s all over our Bibles too. To me, it seems like the way God uses blessed or blessings in the Bible is very different from how it’s used now. I see the term blessed associated with material possessions or family or health. These can all be good things, but I think you could also argue that if these blessings lead us further away from God, they are not truly blessings at all.

“On the other hand, Jesus said, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ (Matthew 5:3). And he said, ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake’ (Matthew 5:10). And he said, ‘Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account’ (Matthew 5:11). Rarely, if ever, do I see people posting about how blessed they are as ‘poor in spirit’ or ‘persecuted’ like we read about in the Beatitudes. With that in mind, what is a biblical definition of what it means to be truly blessed?”

Jordan puts his finger on the nub of the issue, I think, by referring to the Beatitudes in Matthew 5. And I’m going to circle back and probably end there and affirm what he sees and show why it is such a great answer to his own question.

Showcase of God’s Blessing

But first, let me lay down a principle that has helped me grasp why there is such a preponderance of earthly blessings promised in the Old Testament — like the inheritance of land (Psalm 37:22), deliverance from our enemies (Psalm 41:1), fruitfulness in our families and in our fields (Genesis 17:20; 48:3–4) — while in the New Testament, there are very few earthly blessings promised, but rather afflictions are promised, with the material, physical blessings largely postponed until the resurrection.

Here’s the principle: in God’s wisdom, the Jewish religion of the Old Testament was largely a “come and see” religion. Israel was the showcase of God’s blessings among the nations.

Now when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to test him with hard questions. . . . And when the queen of Sheba had seen all the wisdom of Solomon, the house that he had built, the food of his table, the seating of his officials, and the attendance of his servants, their clothing, his cupbearers, and his burnt offerings that he offered at the house of the Lord, there was no more breath in her. (1 Kings 10:1, 4–5)

I call that the showcasing of the blessing of God on the people of God in the Old Testament.

Into All the World

There’s nothing like that in the New Testament. In God’s wisdom, the church of Jesus Christ is not an ethnic or geographic or political or national entity. It cuts across all ethnicities, all geographies, all politics, nationalities.

  • There is no geographic center for Christianity.
  • There’s no great temple-like edifice in Christianity.
  • There are no places to do pilgrimages in Christianity.
  • There are no priests or saints through whom we have to go to God, but only Jesus Christ.
“Put all the billionaires together. They are paupers compared to the lowliest Christian.”

And instead of telling the world to come to us — “Come see how I bless my people”; God never says that — he says, “Go — go to the world. And if it costs you your life, lay it down.” Jesus says very plainly, “Any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33). “Put it at the disposal of me and my mission.” That’s the kind of radical life we’re called to live in the New Testament.

So there’s the principle. And the failure to recognize this distinction between God’s plan for Israel in the Old Testament and God’s plan for the church in the New Testament has caused a lot of people to put way too much emphasis on earthly blessings today.

Eternal Happiness

And I think one of the most illumining texts about how we are blessed as Christians — which we are; I would say we are infinitely blessed — is 1 Corinthians 3:21–23.

Let no one boast in men. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future — all are yours, and you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.

Let that sink in. What a verse! I love it. To belong to Christ is to belong to God as our Father and to be heirs of all that God owns — that is, everything. Paul says, “The world is yours. All things are yours.” Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5). You cannot be richer than a Christian. Put all the billionaires together. They are paupers — I mean, poverty-stricken paupers — compared to the lowliest Christian.

But notice that in the list of things that belong to us is death. That’s in the list: “All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death.” Death is yours. This means that you do not get all your blessings in this life, but that death itself belongs to you as a gift, as a doorway to infinite, eternal, immeasurable blessing. Death becomes your servant because of Christ’s triumph over death. The apostle John heard a voice from heaven saying, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13). Why is that? Paul answers in Ephesians 1:3: God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” — every blessing that heaven can conceive for the eternal happiness of God’s people will be ours.

“In God’s wisdom, the church of Jesus Christ is not an ethnic or geographic or political or national entity.”

But Jesus taught us explicitly not to expect them now. For example, in Luke 14:13–14, he said, “When you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you.” I love Jesus’s logic: “You will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” That’s the orientation of Jesus Christ the king. That’s the New Testament pattern: sacrificial generosity and service now; spectacular blessing later at the resurrection. Or here’s the way James puts it: “Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him” (James 1:12).

First the trial, then the blessing, the crown.

Our Great Reward

Let’s circle back now to Jordan’s reference to the Beatitudes. I think the Beatitudes, taken together, provide a beautiful summary of the blessings promised to the followers of Christ: six immeasurable blessings are sandwiched between the summary promise “Theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3, 10).

These six blessings summarize what it means to live forever under the kingdom, the heavenly rule of God:

  1. We will see God: “They shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). The pure shall see God.
  2. We will be shown mercy: “They shall receive mercy” (Matthew 5:7).
  3. We will be part of God’s family: “They shall be called sons of God” (Matthew 5:9).
  4. We will experience God’s comfort: “They shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).
  5. We will be co-owners of the whole world: “They shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5:5).
  6. We will be satisfied with personal and universal righteousness: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).

So in summary, (1) the presence of God seen and enjoyed in the face of Christ, (2) covering us with mercy because of all our sins, (3) calling us his children, (4) comforting us for all pain and loss in this world, (5) bequeathing to us the universe for a familiar homeland, and (6) everything set right in our souls and in the social order of the new world — this is our great reward. This is what it means to be truly blessed.