I love how the Lord continues to peel back layers of His Word that reveal new understandings of what He is teaching us about His character; about what He has purposed for our lives; and the reality of what the Kingdom really looks like. He allows me to build upon each new revelation -- not discarding the old understanding, but expanding it to include new perspectives, as He moves me to a new position and a fresh frame of reference.
This time it came through my intense study of The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the valiant Lutheran pastor who lived in Germany during the Third Reich, and who took seriously Jesus' call to "take up your cross". Bonhoeffer was fearlessly outspoken against Hitler's Nazi regime and he paid the cost as a martyr for Christ. His book, The Cost of Discipleship, has proven to compliment Scripture in both Truth and Spirit, and caused me to examine familiar Biblical concepts with new eyes and a renewed heart.
For example, the Beatitudes, a portion of Jesus's Sermon on the Mount, have long been a subject of study for me. Ever since 20 years ago, when I sat in a Sunday School class and the teacher [who was also a pastor at the church] admitted that the Beatitudes have long been a struggle for the Church to explain, I was determined that I would make a sincere effort to comprehend their meaning. After all, how could such an important theological standard of the Church be a mystery or enigma?
My first "aha" moment came when I came to believe that the Sermon on the Mount was presented in the context of being the Constitution, if you will, of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus is speaking to a multitude of people, including His Disciples, telling the crowd that the Ten Commandments serve as the Law on earth, but there is a higher concept of the Torah that portrays all that God expects and provides for those who yield to Him. And when we understand that Jesus is speaking to Jews, who greatly revere the Law and Scriptures, one can only imagine what they are thinking! Jesus is speaking of a new paradigm of faith! Jesus reveals that God offers promises of power to fulfill all that He asks of us. In this important Sermon, Jesus puts the emphasis on the inward transformation of our hearts by the grace of God, rather than the outward duty to obey the Law. Jesus is telling all of us that God's Kingdom is available to those who will learn His ways and offer ourselves to Him in full surrender.
And this is where another layer of the Bible has been revealed to me. In light of the previous blog post regarding Discipleship, I now see that to be a Disciple of Christ involves being separated from the world; giving up all we have in the world as we surrender to His will to follow Him, fully and radically. And now I recognize in a chapter of The Cost of Discipleship, that there is another layer ready to be unveiled. Pastor Bonhoeffer paints this picture of Matthew 5:1-12 ... it includes Jesus on the mountain, the multitudes, and the disciples. As he so eloquently explains, The people see Jesus with His Disciples, a group of men who used to be just like them. The Disciples see the people, from whom they've just come. And now they identify as the elect people of God. BUT Jesus sees His Disciples!
As was established in the previous post, these men have separated from the world; they are isolated with their Master, the Good Shepherd, who has come for the lost sheep of the house of Israel. They left their homes and families to follow Him, and that's what now makes them different from their fellow Jews. As Bonhoeffer writes, "Now they are living in want, and privation, the poorest of the poor, the sorest afflicted, and the hungriest of the hungry. They have only Him, and with Him they have nothing, literally nothing in the world, but everything with and through God". [NOTE: We Christians in the 21st Century, profess that we live and experience "everything with and through God", yet very few are living in want, poor, afflicted, hungry, or have fully surrendered ALL to Him. Would He recognize us as His Disciples, if He came back today?]
It is from that perspective that I now understand that when Jesus delivers His sermon on the side of that mountain, He is holding up His Disciples to the crowd as men who have rightly answered the call of God. He calls them Blessed in the hearing of every man, woman, and child in attendance that day. That word "Blessed" had profound meaning to the multitudes of Jews who were gathered there that day. In the Jewish culture, blessed means an increase. It's an increase of God's Presence and His Favor. It is the experiential knowledge of God [as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit] moving in His power and strength to destroy our enemies and overcome our human reasoning and insufficiency. And Jesus is about to bestow that recognition on the Twelve, in the midst of the multitude.
The crowd now stands as a witness that these men are to receive the promises of God to Israel because they have obeyed the call of Jesus. And now that same promise is offered to the crowd, as heirs of the promise. Will the crowd understand that He is about to show them the stature of the Disciples before God? Will they believe in Jesus and surrender their all to follow Him? In His Sermon, He shows the crowd how these men, who until recently, had been just like them, now share in a new and distinct way of life... Theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven. In that day, just as today, wealth was measured by your place in society; what you owned, your position of power, your status and influence. But Jesus points to the Twelve, who have no possessions, no homes, no power [either spiritual or material]. They have lost all they ever had, for His sake. Now they are poor in the spirit [of what poverty looks like]; poor in the ways the world defines poor, but they are rich in the promises that they will one day see the glory of the Kingdom of Heaven. Jesus calls them blessed. They are what the heirs of the kingdom look like!
Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted. Jesus is now widening the gulf between His Disciples and the rest of the crowd. As the Twelve embrace His call on their lives, they begin to mourn for the world -- they mourn for all that the world idolizes and covets; for its fate, and for the judgment that is coming upon it. And that renders them strangers to the world. Their only comfort -- but what an astounding consolation it is! -- comes from the Comforter, Himself. They are beginning to see that their true home is not the world, but with their crucified Lord, and they look forward to spending eternity with Him!
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. In the ancient world, to be powerless and marginalized was to be weak and defeated. Yet the 12 Disciples would renounce their own rights for the sake of Jesus Christ. They would hold their peace when confronted; endure all hostility and violence; yield ground when men drove them out of the city square. They claim no citizen's rights for themselves. And this goes against all human tendencies or dispositions. Yet, Jesus says, They will inherit the earth. They will take the message of Christ across the globe, and it will spread until Jesus returns, renewing the earth, and the meek [who look like these Disciples] will possess it.
Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled. As the Disciples continue on their journey with Jesus and begin to understand what He is teaching them, they are privileged to discern the righteousness that Jesus calls them to, and they can distinguish it from the sin of the world. They actually renounce the thought of their own righteousness because the example of Jesus as perfect righteousness reminds them they are still of the world. But they hunger for the day that He promises; the day when the earth will experience forgiveness of all sin, when both they and the world will be renewed, and the day when the fullness of the Kingdom is experienced as Jesus fulfills the Law and the prophecies. At this time they hunger and thirst for the Messianic Kingdom, even as Jesus offers Himself as their bread of life and living water.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy. Before the crowd, Jesus honors His Disciples by calling them merciful. These twelve men, who had not much to begin with, were willing to give up everything else they had to follow Jesus. And as they learn from Him, they are now willing to give up the last of their personal dignity and honor. Like Jesus, they are learning to identify with the downtrodden and the outcasts. They will actually seek them out in order to give them mercy and comfort. They recognize that Jesus chose them out of His own mercy for them; for they were among the wretched sinners of the world when He called them. And because of that awareness, they are now able to offer mercy to others. They believe that one day, in His Mercy, God will clothe them in honor and dignity as His heirs. Yes, blessed are those that are merciful, because they walk in the image of the Merciful One, Jesus Christ.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Jesus makes sure the crowd understands that it is the condition of their hearts that He is interested in. He seeks those whose hearts are pure because they have surrendered to Him. Among the multitudes that are present, only the Disciples fit that description. Because these Twelve left everything and everyone in their lives to follow Jesus in an almost child-like trust, their hearts are open to relying solely on Jesus. They no longer look to the world to fulfill their desires and plans, but are focused solely on Him as their Answer. They stand in stark contrast to everyone else that was present that day. Others sought Jesus for a day as a temporary "fix", but the Disciples were wholly committed to a life focused on becoming more like Him. Their hearts were being purified, and Jesus announces that they will have the privilege of seeing God.
Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. This must have been a hard pill to swallow for the Jews in attendance that day; and I imagine a difficult truth to walk out for the Disciples, as well. As Jews, theirs was a history of domination by various empires, and they were now under the thumb of Roman rule. They longed for the fulfillment of the prophecy that God would send the Messiah to overcome and defeat their enemies. Yet here is Jesus, training the Disciples [and telling the crowd] that even in the midst of subjugation they can have peace in Him. And not only that, but they are to seek peace and make peace -- even in the midst of violence against them. Jesus has been teaching His Disciples that He was sent to reconcile men back to a relationship with their God. And God wants to establish His Kingdom on earth through peaceful means. That is in stark contrast to the world and a message that even the Disciples struggle to accept. But they have been called to partner with Jesus in establishing this reconciliation in peace. By that partnership, God will know them as His sons, just as Jesus is the Son of God.
Blessed are they that have been persecuted for righteousness' sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Now, the Jews are no strangers to persecution; it has been their lot for centuries. Jesus is holding up the Twelve before the crowd as examples of those who are blessed and will know the increase of God's Presence and Favor; who will know His power and strength to overcome their Enemies. BUT, this is about persecution for the sake of righteousness. Persecution comes not for God's righteousness, but the suffering they will endure in pursuit of a just cause. Their message and works will offend the world because they deny them their idols. The Disciples' very confession of Jesus's Name is enough to bring oppression and hostility from any and all who stand in opposition to the Kingdom. But Jesus establishes that they will not only be Blessed, but will receive the Kingdom of Heaven... making them equals to the poor in spirit.
It is not lost on me that the last Blessing Jesus gives His followers is the one of persecution. It points back to Him. It will be their testimony as the poor and suffering, the meek and merciful, the sympathetic and tolerant, that brings them into authentic fellowship with Jesus. Like Jesus, they will appear as strangers to the world. And although Jesus calls them Blessed, the world will call for their removal from the world. But they will follow Jesus all the way to the Cross, and then on to the Kingdom of Heaven!
This is a perspective that gives me clarity and courage. If I am to be hopeful of walking out my time on earth as a Disciple of Christ, then Jesus has set out a clear path. To receive His blessing of living out eternity in the Presence and Favor of Almighty God in His Kingdom of Heaven, I must live my life as a stranger to this world. But He also makes it clear [in perhaps one of the most famous sermons in history] that I can meet none of His requirements out of my own behavior. It is the call and promise of Jesus alone that makes it possible!
I would love to know how many of those present on the mountain that day grasped the gravity of His message. How many looked at the Disciples and thought, "They look and sound like me, but there's something different about them. This celebrated teacher, Jesus, is so attractive to me, yet He talks of things these 12 men will endure -- things I don't want to experience. What about Him makes it all worthwhile for them? He offers nothing that this world values, yet promises a future with God in a heavenly kingdom. Do I dare take the chance and give up all I have and know for a promise I can't see"? My friends, that's the same question we are presented with today!
This perspective on the Beatitudes is sobering and straightforward. But it is just as consequential today as it was 2000 years ago when a multitude of Jewish men, women, and children gathered to hear this Famed Teacher who drew crowds from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan. He had the capacity to change their lives for eternity. How many left that day transformed? How many will allow Him to transform them today?
#sermononthemount #thebeatitudes #blessedarethepoor #jesusdisciples #thetwelvedisciples
Matthew 19:28 Jesus said to them, “I assure you and most solemnly say to you, in the renewal [that is, the Messianic restoration and regeneration of all things] when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you [who have followed Me, becoming My disciples] will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.
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