What Would Jesus Say To Today’s Religious Leaders?

By Brannon S. Howse

As I said in the last chapter, many groups are doing their part to create a one-world religion, and this is enabled on a popular level by continued misuse of one of the most wrongly exploited Bible verses of our time, Matthew 5:13-16: 

[quote] You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. [end quote]


I’ll explain this Scripture abuse shortly, but first, to grasp the correct context of Matthew 5:13-16, we need to go back to Matthew 5:1. Let’s start with verse 1 and see what’s really going on by the time we read Matthew 5:13: 


[quote] And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him. Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, 

For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,

For they shall be comforted.

Blessed are the meek,

For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
     For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
     For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
     For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
     For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” [end quote] 


Here, Jesus is teaching what are known as The Beatitudes. They are part of the “Sermon on the Mount.”

Notice the description that sets up this event. Matthew says Jesus “was seated.” This is significant, because in the first century, it was common for Jewish teachers to sit and teach. So Jesus’ sitting is a sign of His authority. 

Next: what does Jesus mean by “the poor in spirit,” “those who mourn,” and “blessed are the meek”? Biblically, being poor in spirit means to acknowledge one’s spiritual bankruptcy—to acknowledge that you’re depraved, sinful. To confirm this, Paul says in Romans 3:23 that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” and in Romans 3:12, “There is none righteous, no, not one.” Apart from faith, repentance, and the righteous life of Jesus Christ imputed to us, even our righteous deeds look like wickedness to God (see also Isaiah 64:6). In Matthew 5:3, Jesus teaches that those who acknowledge that there’s nothing they can do to save themselves recognize that they are spiritually bankrupt. Salvation is all from Christ, Christ alone.


Unblessed by the Blessing


Associating blessing with being the poor in spirit would have been offensive to the religious leaders who first heard these words. In that culture, much of a person’s status was based on his riches or wealth. People thought that the richer you were, the more blessed by God you were. Many believed that a man’s riches were a sign of his spiritual condition and favor with God. So possessing great riches was evidence that the person was spiritually superior to others. 

Yet many of these well-to-do, influential people were not believers. Jesus called them “white-washed tombs, dogs, vipers”—see Matthew 7, for instance. For Jesus to declare that people need to be poor would have been contrary to the predominant worldview at the time. 

And what about “blessed are those who mourn”? Jesus’ words are especially ironic because another word for blessed is happy. Happy are those who mourn? You want to be truly happy or blessed, He asks? Mourn. What Jesus means is that we should experience godly sorrow that produces repentance unto salvation. 

Second Corinthians 7:9-11 teaches the same thing. Godly sorrow produces repentance for salvation, and godly sorrow over our sinful state ties to spiritual bankruptcy. We mourn because we are spiritually bankrupt—and blessed are those who understand that godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation.

Moving on to verse 5, Jesus adds, “Blessed are the meek.” Another word for meek is humble. This is not a groveling, wimpy humility people mistakenly think of. The better way to understand Jesus is that meek means power under control. 


Counter-Cultural Worldview


All three of these messages went against the culture of the day, and it goes counter to the culture of our day as well. Meek people are not applauded or respected. They are often seen as weak. The common saying “nice guys finish last” describes our cultural attitude. Humble people who acknowledge their sinfulness and dependence on Christ generally are not held up as the standard of success in our society. But now, as then, Jesus turns our thinking upside down. The rich people thought to be blessed of God were actually cursed. The meek, not the mighty, “shall inherit the earth.”

Consider also Matthew 5:6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” Where do we find the prescription for righteous living? In God’s Word. And how does “a young man cleanse his way” (Psalm 119:9)? By heeding the Word of God. So if I hunger and thirst for righteous, what do I do? I study God’s Word. If I want to walk in obedience, sanctification, faithfulness, and obedience, I study God’s Word, and by studying God’s Word, I will be filled.

     Jesus goes on in verse 7 to say, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” He’s speaking of those who have compassion, grace, and service. The Bible consistently teaches that love is patient and kind, and the word kind in 1 Corinthians 13:4, for instance, implies service to others. You’re not just a “nice person” who smiles at people. It means you provide consistent Christian service to others. Humility is also implied in serving others. First Corinthians 13:4 confirms Matthew 5:7 as scripture always confirms scripture. 

Then, verse 8—“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”—describes those who are sanctified. The only way to be pure in heart is through the Gospel of Jesus Christ, through salvation. Otherwise, what are we? Our righteous deeds are counted as wickedness, and we’re dead: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

The only way to be pure in heart is through having a new heart. Your stony heart is replaced, and old things pass away. You’re made a new creation in Christ. That comes only through salvation, justification, and the sanctification process of faithfulness and ongoing obedience to God’s Word. 

Verse 9 gets even more interesting. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.” Blessed are those who preach the Gospel of peace. Isn’t that how Scripture often describes the Gospel? For instance, Romans 10:15 declares, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!”

How do you bring peace to people? By preaching the Gospel so they can accept it, be justified and sanctified, and their sin debt paid through Jesus Christ. The Bible describes this as a peace that surpasses all understanding (Philippians 4:7). Preaching the gospel of peace makes us peacemakers—and “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the sons of God.”

Verse 10 offers more blessing—on “those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” For Christians, this verse is especially reassuring because 2 Timothy 3:12 reminds us that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.” This clearly is not a man-centered message that’s likely to be well-accepted today. It is a Christ-centered message, a Gospel-centered message. Living this out requires self-denial and the uncomfortable dying-to-self truth.

But what is the man-centered gospel of today? “Be happy. Get your best life now. Be part of the group. Join the consensus. Don’t swim against the current; go with the flow.” But Christ tells us to stand for that which honors the Lord, according to His righteous standard—and risk being persecuted in the process. The persecution part of the promise doesn’t sell the Church very well, and that’s why you seldom hear an altar call say anything like, “Come forward, receive Christ, and begin to be persecuted.” That’s not good for church growth numbers. 

Instead, most churches, revivals, crusades, or evangelistic events promise that if you come to Christ, you’ll get something. For instance, I have a video of false teacher Myles Monroe in which he says:

[quote] People ain’t interested in no blood. . . . They don’t want to hear about the blood of Christ. They don’t want to hear about the blood in the boardroom. They don’t want to hear about the blood on the playground. People ain’t interested in blood. . . . Don’t preach Jesus. [end quote] 


Instead, what does Monroe say to preach? Tell what Jesus (supposedly) will do for people: put them on top, give them dominion, make them prosper! That’s the man-centered gospel of today. Make Christ your personal butler to give you what you want.

Quite to the contrary, Job 5:7 warns that trials and tribulations are like sparks from a fire. Come to Christ, and let the tribulation begin. Suffering is the true way with Christ. How do I know? Look at Matthew 5:11: 

"Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in Heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you."


Churches which leave out this part are led by hirelings, not godly pastors, and the man-centered, pop psychology gospel produces nothing but false converts. 

Jesus concentrates on internal, not external, values. He confronts several religious groups in this passage—not just one. His confrontation with these four religious groups brings me to the focal point of what I think Jesus would say to today’s leaders. And what is that?


True Salt and Light


I believe Jesus would say, “I am concerned about the heart. I want to focus what’s going on inside you, not so much in your external religious traditions, your pietism, self-help formulas, religious agendas, church campaigns, and political coalitions. If you get the heart right, everything else will fall into place.” Jesus emphasizes this point later in Matthew 5:21-22:


"You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.” But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment."


Note that being “angry” is internal. If you’re angry with your brother and hate him enough to think of killing him, that is an inner issue. 

Jesus presses the point further in Matthew 5:27-28:

"You have heard that it was said to those of old, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart."


Lust. That is certainly internal. By lusting, you commit adultery in your heart. 

The words heart and mind are often interchangeable in the Scriptures. Together, in fact, they are used 826 times in the Bible. Consider how the following verses apply:


Matthew 15:18—“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and they defile a man.”

Romans 10:10—“For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”

Matthew 22:37—“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind.” 


For Jesus, the heart of the matter is the heart. 

Yet, despite Christ’s teaching about the heart, far too many of our religious leaders focus on externalities. They believe if they can get society to act the way they want it to act, if they can get control of Congress, the White House, and the governors’ mansions, then they can make cultural changes. But you see, they’re focusing on the external, not the internal. 

To support this quest for external “redemption,” many of the Religious Right twist Scripture to suit their agendas. They misuse the Matthew 5 idea that we need to be salt and light, yet Scripture teaches that Christians are salt and light if they live out The Beatitudes. 

Many religious activists rationalize their involvement in issues by asserting that they are being salt and light. “To be salt and light,” they insist, “we’ve got to pass this legislation or support that political measure. We need believers to run for office and must win the next election.” But are they really salt and light?

Politicking may or may not be okay for Christians, but it is definitely not what Jesus is talking about in Matthew’s Gospel. While I do believe we should go out and vote for the best candidates to uphold God’s purpose for government (I’ve even run for office in my hometown), Christ’s Sermon on the Mount is not calling for political activism. To the contrary, He asserts that our issues are not external; the important ones are all internal. Get the hearts of people right, and other things will fall in line!

Because of the erroneous contemporary teaching about salt and light, many religious leaders today are, in fact, not being salt and light. They’re not preaching a biblical gospel. They may make it sound biblical, but they undermine the message by promoting false teachers and ecumenical enterprises. Many others never even teach the Gospel at all. They teach Christian activism, not biblical salt-and-light living. 

A careful examination of what Jesus says in Matthew 5:13-16 reveals the inner issues He’s really talking about. Here’s what He tells the disciples:

"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in Heaven."


The “good works” described here are not works of political activism. Certainly we can defend the life of the unborn, we can fight active euthanasia, we can oppose same-sex marriage, and do so out of an understanding and defense of biblical truth. But this is not a call to Christian activism. Jesus says simply that salt-and-light people exhibit The Beatitudes.

Copyright 2015 ©Brannon Howse. This content is for Situation Room members and is not to be duplicated in any form or uploaded to other websites without the express written permission of Brannon Howse or his legally authorized representative. 

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