Posts Tagged ‘Beatitudes’

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Who is our Enemy and Does it Matter?

February 6, 2012

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, and even throughout His ministry Jesus is constantly reorienting His listeners and directing His disciples.  In this Sermon, blessing is defined, the law is upheld, and the disciples are called to a new level of living.  Murder is no longer an outward act alone, but a condition of a fallen heart.  Likewise lust, adultery, hatred, and confessions become out-workings of a heart that is not pure, and as a result has not seen God.  In Matthew 5: 43-48 Jesus begins to confront the hearts of those who felt it appropriate to reserve love, and display it to a select few.

Matthew 5:43-44 “You have heard it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’  But I say to you love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute you.”

For the Jews, the enemy was the one who was not your neighbor.  A neighbor was one who was part of the community, typically a fellow Jew, but even a foreigner sojourning through your community. (Ex. 23:4-5; Lev 19:18, 3334)  The enemies were those outside of these communities, the non-Jews.  The Jews of this time were known for their exclusion and hatred of non-Jews.  This is evidenced in the writings of the Roman Historians, Tacitus and Juvenal.[1]  The Old Testament never prescribes, outlines, or commands that Israel is to hate their enemies.  Rather, they were commanded in Leviticus 19:18, which Jesus here quotes, to “Love your neighbor.”

The “and hate your enemies” line seems to be referring to the traditional Rabbinic Teaching that grew up around the Law of God.  The Rabbi’s and Jewish religious establishment slowly added to God’s Law, distorting it and choking the life out of it, turning it into legalism devoid of God’s character.  Throughout His Sermon, Jesus is breaking down these man-made barriers, and revealing the Law we are meant to uphold.  One rooted in a heart reflecting the love of God, who “while we were still enemies, reconciled (us) to God through the death of His son.” (Romans 5:10)

For us, loving our enemies is not an easy task.  G.K. Chesterton once remarked that “The Bible tells us to love our neighbors, and also love our enemies; probably because they are often the same people.”  There is a certain amount of wisdom in that saying, as we often have the greatest amount of strife with those who are close to us.  The word used here for enemy is the Greek word ekthros or Echthros, it is an adjective meaning hated, a man who is hostile toward others or toward God.  The common idea throughout the New Testament regarding the word enemy is one who stands in opposition.  They may be standing in opposition to God, or in opposition to you, or both if you are attempting to accomplish God’s work.  Your enemy may be real or perceived.  He or they may be actively opposing you, or simply passively displaying anger; inflicting pain, emotional damage, or financial hardship on you.  They may be family members, children, co-workers, or someone who happen to dislike.  They may be the drunk driver who accidentally killed your uncle in an accident.  They may be the boss who passed over you for promotion.  Obviously the list could go on and on.

It is much easier to identify your enemies than it is to show them God’s love, forgiveness and kindness.  Jesus is less concerned with the form your enemies take, and more concerned with the form of your attitude toward them.  For the Christian, an enemy should not be defined by the hatred in our heart or the vitriol from our lips, but rather our enemies should be marked as those who receive the outpouring of our kindness and love.  If they are hungry, we should feed them; if they are thirsty, we should give them something to drink. (Romans 12:20)

God Himself is kind to “ungrateful and evil men” (Luke 6:35); He came among them, and though they did not receive Him, He died for them.  And as they were pounding nails into His flesh, to hang Him up to die on a cross, He cried out on their behalf.  His cry was not one of cursing, as we might do when someone cuts us off in traffic;  His cry was not for God’s wrath, as we might call on for the one who steals from us at work.  His cry was that they might be forgiven, that the Father who loved them, might forgive them this horrendous act. What wrong could be done to us that has not been felt and forgiven by God?  If we are His and have His love, how can we love less those who He loves so much. “If the cruel torture of crucifixion could not silence our Lord’s prayer for His enemies, what pain, pride, prejudice, or sloth could justify the silencing our ours.” – John Stott


[1] Quarles, Charles. The Sermon on the Mount. Nashville. B&H. 2011. 160.

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Satisfied vs. Gratified: the Superiority of Divine Satisfaction…

September 21, 2011

“Blessed are those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness, for they will be Satisfied.” -Matthew 5:6

We live in a world of instant gratification.  We all hunger, thirst and desire, we live to serve these appetites.  Our lives are organized around the next meal, the promising relationship, and the next fix.  Some of these are necessary for survival, others are necessary for “the good life.”  Throughout the years we have become more and more adept at servicing these needs with efficiency and expediency.  We have Aspirin for headaches, McDonalds for meals, Staples for supplies, and Snickers for snacks.  It is a “fast relief when you need it, that was easy, Hungry? Why wait?” world.  That we hunger and thirst is not the problem, the problem lies in the object of our desires and the methods we use to fulfill them.  C.S. Lewis wrote:

We are half hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea, we are far too easily pleased.

Jesus confronted a world absent of so many of the quick fixes we take for granted.  Food was rare, water was scarce and those in pain often lived lives racked with discomfort.  But the people in first century Palestine were cut from the same fallen cloth as you and I; they wanted their needs met in the now, and their hope realized in the present.  Jesus punctuated His ministry with parallel announcements: that the kingdom had arrived; and that we should still live for the promise of the Kingdom to come.  He offers a present satisfaction with the realization of who He is, and a future satisfaction in who we will become.

The world lies in the grips of one who is both evil and easy.  Satan confronts Christ in His temptations with the easy path: “hungry, turn these stones to bread;’ ‘want to rule, worship me.'”  Satan offers the same illicit solutions to us and too often we break under the appetite of the now.  So we settle for lifeless stones rather than the life-giving Word, and worship the creature rather than the Creator.  This basic sin is fundamental to how our world is structured, needs must be met now or not at all.

But Jesus seeks us, and His glory that comes from our satisfaction in Him.  So he lays out the appetites of a citizen of the kingdom.  If we hunger and thirst for bread, we can find gratification, but in a short while hunger will return.  If we take the bread of life, we will never hunger again.

The concept of divine satisfaction is rooted in the idea that only one thing can fill the need we all possess:  The need to revisit the days when we walked with our Maker in the cool of the day.  Entrance into that paradise can only be found when we seek first His kingdom and His righteousness.  And by His righteousness we enter in, secure in the satisfying presence of the source of our satisfaction.

Don’t settle for cheap imitations and instant gratification; the reward of righteousness is worth the wait.

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A.W. Tozer on Meekness…

September 14, 2011

Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. Matt.5:5a

A fairly accurate description of the human race might be furnished one unacquainted with it by taking the Beatitudes, turning them wrong side out and saying, `Here is your human race.’ For the exact opposite of the virtues in the Beatitudes are the very qualities which distinguish human life and conduct.

In the world of men we find nothing approaching the virtues of which Jesus spoke in the opening words of the famous Sermon on the Mount. Instead of poverty of spirit we find the rankest kind of pride; instead of mourners we find pleasure seekers; instead of meekness, arrogance; instead of hunger after righteousness we hear men saying, `I am rich and increased with goods and have need of nothing’; instead of mercy we find cruelty; instead of purity of heart, corrupt imaginings; instead of peacemakers we find men quarrelsome and resentful; instead of rejoicing in mistreatment we find them fighting back with every weapon at their command. Of this kind of moral stuff civilized society is composed.

Into a world like this the sound of Jesus’ words comes wonderful and strange, a visitation from above. He is not offering an opinion; Jesus never uttered opinions. He never guessed; He knew, and He knows. His words are not as Solomon’s were, the sum of sound wisdom or the results of keen observation. He spoke out of the fullness of His Godhead, and His words are very Truth itself. He is the only one who could say `blessed’ with complete authority, for He is the Blessed One come from the world above to confer blessedness upon mankind. And His words were supported by deeds mightier than any performed on this earth by any other man. It is wisdom for us to listen.

The burden borne by mankind is a heavy and a crushing thing. The word Jesus used means a load carried or toil borne to the point of exhaustion. Rest is simply release from that burden. It is not something we do, it is what comes to us when we cease to do. His own meekness, that is the rest.

The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is in the sight of God of more importance than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything. That is his motto. He knows well that the world will never see him as God sees him and he has stopped caring. He rests perfectly content to allow God to place His own values. He will be patient to wait for the day when everything will get its own price tag and real worth will come into its own. Then the righteous shall shine forth in the Kingdom of their Father. He is willing to wait for that day.

The heart of the world is breaking under this load of pride and pretense. There is no release from our burden apart from the meekness of Christ. Good keen reasoning may help slightly, but so strong is this vice that if we push it down one place it will come up somewhere else. To men and women everywhere Jesus says, `Come unto me, and I will give you rest.’ The rest He offers is the rest of meekness, the blessed relief which comes when we accept ourselves for what we are and cease to pretend

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The Beatitudes Part 3: Blessed are the meek…

September 13, 2011

Matthew 5:5 “Blessed are the meek, for the shall inherit the earth.”

Some Thoughts…

Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is addressing man’s condition and God’s design on multiple fronts.  The pattern is one beginning deep within the believer and slowly working its way our.  The blessed are those who are first poor in spirit.  Deep within themselves they come before God in abject spiritual poverty.  This spiritual poverty is hidden to the outside world, and known only by those who take stock of themselves in quiet moments of reflection before God.  From this personal assessment comes the state of mourning.  This is a slightly more public act.  You are broken over your sin and so you mourn, and while that can be intimidating you rest in the knowledge that you will be comforted.  After assessing your own spirit and mourning over your own sin you begin to behave differently around others, you act with meekness (gentleness).  Here the pattern becomes clear, inward change leads to outward evidence.

 

This leads to a change in posture.  Those who are humble enough to realize who they are before God, will behave in a way that reflects this understanding.  They will not be domineering or demanding to others, but instead behave as one who has nothing to boast in but Christ and Him Crucified.  They are meek toward God, obedient in their love for others, and live a life of worship in displaying these traits.  This is modeled for us by Christ in Phil 2:1-11.

 

We follow this pattern, and assume this posture living in the hope of the future that is promised.  The Kingdom of Heaven, an abundance of comfort, and finally the earth; for those who are poor, broken, and meek this is quite a promise.  And yet it is one fully lived out by our Lord, who embodied the pattern, the posture and the promise.  He who became poor in spirit (Phil 2:1-11), was broken and mourned over our sin, and finally was meek, even praying for those who crucified Him (father forgive them for they know not what they do); He also ushered in the Kingdom of Heaven, was comforted by the spirit and brought comfort to us, and has as His inheritance the Earth and all that is contained with in it.

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Joy Comes in the Mourning…

September 1, 2011

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.”

Scripture, time and again, affirms two truths; We live in a world of denial. We live in a world that is in the grips of the evil one. These two statements are more than coincidental. Satan’s main goal is to get us to live in denial; denial over our sin, denial over God’s existence, denial over the truth and power of Scripture. The world buys into his philosophy and makes it a way of life. When bad things happen, when tragedy strikes the easiest thing to do is to seek comfort in the insufficient arms of denial.

This tactic stretches all the way back to the garden; Satan deceived Eve, planting a seed of denial, “surely you will not die…”. Eve and Adam bought the lie and in turn bought our slavery to sin. And when they sinned, they did not mourn, they did not grieve, they hid behind bushes hoping their sins would be covered, but leaves and brush were insufficient to remit their guilt. It would take blood, tears, and sacrifice.

The opposite of denial is truth. Jesus embodied this, as the Way, the Truth and the Life confronting a society that lived in denial. The Jewish leaders were in denial over their sin, the zealots were in denial over their Roman occupation, and the disciples were in denial that their messiah would have to die. Jesus confronts this society of denial with the truth of God’s authority and grace.

Blessed are those who mourn for they shall be comforted. This is a statement that makes very little sense in our world today, it was equally as confusing in first century Palestine. Basically Jesus is saying ‘happy are you who mourn, for you will find comfort. Following on the heals of the first beatitude we see a pattern begin to develop. In order to have great heavenly riches we have to become poor in spirit; now, in order to find comfort, we must mourn.

This is counter-intuitive; according to the world’s system we should seek riches now, and rely on our own self esteem. We shouldn’t mourn, we should be happy, and not let anything get us down; and if we’re down we should just drink our troubles away, or get therapy or take anti-depressants. But the key to a blessed life, a happy life, is spiritual humility and mourning.

When we stand in the light of Christ’s work for us on the cross, we see our sin exposed and laid bare before us. The appropriate response on our part is like that of Job, Isaiah, or the tax collector in Luke 18, ‘I am undone, I repent,’ ‘I am a man of unclean lips’, ‘have mercy on me a sinner.’ Each was humble, each mourned over sin, and each found comfort.

It is difficult to truly mourn when we are in denial. Mourning necessitates that we take a realistic look at ourselves and our situation and see what is really going on and deal with it. We must be willing to do this when tragedy strikes our lives, we must be willing to do this over our sin. The temptation is to simply move on and pretend the need for grief isn’t there. But giving in to this temptation robs us of the opportunity for real comfort.

I often think of that first Good Friday, which on the surface had very little good about it. Jesus is taken out of the city and placed on a hill, most likely with in view of a road leading into the city. (As it was the custom of the Romans to crucify criminals in full view of the public, to serve as a warning and demonstration of justice.) There is nothing pleasant about a crucifixion, and out of all those Jesus had taught, all those he had healed, all those whose lives were changed as a result of his ministry, scripture tells us that there were only three of his followers present before him at the base of the cross. Mary Magdalene, his mother Mary and John his disciple.

What were they doing there? They were mourning. Mourning the loss of their friend, their teacher, their son, their brother. They did not know yet about what was to come on Sunday. They simply saw the carnage before them and wept over the loss and his final words, “it is finished.” But just as he promised chapters and years earlier, comfort would come. And at the breaking dawn of the third day two of these three mourners would be the first to be blessed and comforted by the reality of his resurrection.

I often wonder, as countless people hurried passed the site of his execution, how many averted their eyes to be spared the reality of what was taking place? How many disciples and followers chose not to be present because ‘it was just to tough to watch’? How many chose denial over the reality of his death? How many people failed to mourn at the cross and as a result missed the comfort of the empty tomb? How many of us ignore the cross and the sin it confronts and miss the comfort of Christ?

The grace of God is that while weeping may last the night, joy comes in the morning. The message of Jesus is that while we yet sinners he died for us, so that we would have life and have it more abundantly. What stands between us and that abundant, happy life, is the brokenness of the cross, our humility to recognize it and the mournful confession that we need him. Jesus says, ’empty your spirit and I will fill it with mine.’ “mourn your sin, you will find comfort in my cross.’ ‘Weep, yes mourn, but know this, that joy comes in the mourning.’

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Keys to the Kingdom: the path to divine citizenship…

August 30, 2011

America is unique in that it is one of the only nations in the world where one can become ‘an American’ regardless of where you’re from or who you are. Everyone here is from somewhere else. We define being American not simply in terms of legal status, but also as a way of life, a set of ideals, principles and habits. Americans have a walk, a talk, and an appearance, which is recognized, throughout the world. Sometimes it is mimicked and sometimes it is mocked. These are the marks of citizenship.

Being a citizen is not simply a recognition of some sovereign power, but the lawful submission to that sovereignty in deeds as well as thought. When submission is absent, anarchy breeds and soon one could rightfully begin to question citizenship altogether.

Jesus calls us to be part of a new sovereign state, and He gives us the path to citizenship. The kingdom of Heaven is near, indeed it is upon us. So how does the this kingdom manifest itself? Since Christ’s life, death and resurrection, much has happened in the world to make us question whether or not this kingdom has truly come. Certainly His disciples, most of whom died at the hands of earthly sovereign oppressors, would have wondered if the kingdom had arrived.

What Jesus gives us in the beatitudes is the keys to this in-breaking kingdom. Martin Lloyd-Jones once preached, in his sermon on the Beatitudes, that,

“When He said to the Pharisees ‘the kingdom of God is among you, ‘ it was though He were saying, ‘it is being manifested in your midst.’ Don’t say ‘look here’ or ‘look there’. Get rid of this materialistic view. I am here amongst you; I am doing things, it is here.’ Wherever the reign of Christ is being manifested, the kingdom of God is there.”

The kingdom is the practiced life of the King by His subjects. Where Christ rules, the kingdom reigns. When we approach God in spiritual poverty, we approach the King with empty hands and humble hearts. And at that moment we become blessed, our hands are freed from earthly bonds and our hearts are filled with the riches of the kingdom. And as we proceed through life, we are to act like the King and in so doing our culture changes and the presence of the kingdom becomes more clear. We must be gentle, merciful, peaceful and pure, and in doing so we will be blessed. We will still mourn, but we will be comforted. We will still hunger but we will be satisfied. And while we are still persecuted, we rest under the rule of our King; walking in the shadow of His throne, in the light of His love and according to the code of His kingdom written on our hearts.