Saturday, January 5, 2013

Matthew 5: Beatitudes and Sermon on the Mount

LINK: Matthew 5

BACKGROUND

49. Jesus gives the beatitudes: (Matthew 5:1-12; Luke 6:17-26)


When reading this chronologically using all four gospel accounts, Jesus has just chosen His twelve disciples (Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16). After this, Jesus began his training program for them and a "large crowd of His disciples and a great number of people from all over" (Luke 6:17). This is a time of teaching. Matthew 5-7 and the parallel passage in Luke 6:12-49 are most often referred to as the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew's account is much longer than Luke's. Matthew's audience was Jewish, so there are many parts that interpret the Law.  Luke's audience was primarily Gentile. So, these parts were omitted. Some commentators see these two passages as two separate events, but we will not. 

The exact location is unknown, but it is believed to be somewhere between Capernaum and Gennesaret near the Sea of Galilee. In Luke, the sermon is said to take place on a level place while the Matthew account says that He went up on a mountainside. The most logical explanation is that He had gone up to pray and chose His disciples and came down to a lower, level place to give the Sermon on the Mount. 


Plato (423-347 BC) in Republic and Aristotle (384-322 BC) in Nichomachean Ethic attempted to answer the question about which life is the "good life."  Jesus came along in the context of the day and answered that question in the Beatitudes.  


What makes a person blessed, which means "favored" or "happy"? Some commentators see this sermon as an ethical code for God's people, a checklist of spiritual attainment. "If I am poor in Spirit (humble), then I will inherit the kingdom of God." Here is what these commentators say about this:

. . . a platform of important principles for the enlightenment and guidance of His kingdom forces. This sermon is not a mere ethical code but its sublime moral principles far surpass all human moral standards. Christ's idea of Righteousness as here set forth, became the kingdom's ideal of Righteousness which has never yet been approximately realized by humanity. In His universal eternal principles in this sermon, Jesus laid the basis for the kingdom work for all time. In one discourse, He superseded all previous standards and set up the new and final religious goal for the human race. He here uttered the final word about character and privilege, conduct and duty, religious ideals, the divine and human relations of men, and the supreme objective and goal in life and how to attain it. 
(The Christ of the Gospels by J.W. Shepard, p. 176)
Others commentators believe that the Beatitudes "cannot be 'good news' if they are understood as a set of 'how-tos' for achieving blessedness." (The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, p. 106). Rather, they believe it is an announcement by Jesus to the great mass of humanity who was following Him that they did not have to have it all together or be part of the right ethnic group to be in the kingdom of God. Jesus had come to announce blessing to the "spiritual zeros"!
Standing around Jesus as he speaks are people with no spiritual qualifications or abilities at all. You would never call on them when "spiritual work" is to be done. There is nothing about them to suggest that the breath of God might move through their lives. They have no charisma, no religious glitter or clout. 
They "don't know their Bible." They "know not the law," as a later critic of Jesus' work said. They are "mere laypeople," who at best can fill a pew or perhaps an offering plate. No one calls them to lead a service or even to lead in prayer, and they might faint if anyone did. 
They are the first to tell you they "really can't make heads nor tails of religion." They walk by us in the hundreds or thousands every day. They would be the last to say they have any claim whatsoever on God. The pages of the Gospels are cluttered with such people. And yet: "He touched me." The rule of the heavens comes down upon their lives through their contact with Jesus. And then they too are blessed -- healed of body, mind, or spirit -- in the hand of God.
. . . precisely in spite of and in the midst of their ever so deplorable condition, the rule of the heavens has moved redemptively upon and through them by the grace of Christ. . . 
The Beatitudes, in particular, are not teachings on how to be blessed. They are not instructions to do anything. They do not indicate conditions that are especially pleasing to God or good for human beings . . . They are explanations and illustrations, drawn from the immediate setting, of the present availability of the kingdom through personal relationship with Jesus. They single out cases that provide proof that, in him, the rule of God from the heavens truly is available in life circumstances that are beyond all human hope. 
 (The Divine Conspiracy by Dallas Willard, p. 100-102, 106)
This second view seems to be in keeping with His announcement that "the kingdom of heaven is at hand" prior to the beatitudes (Matthew 3:2; 4:17; Mark 1:15).  They are a "clarification or development of his primary theme in this talk, and in his life: the availability of the kingdom of the heavens" (p.99). 
Christ came to found a Kingdom, not a School; to institute a fellowship, not to propound a system. To the first disciples all doctrinal teaching sprang out of fellowship with Him. They saw Him, and therefore believed . . . The seed of truth which fell on their hearts was carried thither from the flower of His Person and Life." (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah: Volume 1, p. 528-529)
In Matthew 5:1-12, Jesus taught of the blessed life for all the "spiritual zeros" who would enter the kingdom. He continues to answer the "good life" question when he teaches about . . . 

50. Salt and light: Matthew 5:13-16

The brilliance and profundity of Jesus stand out in the overall structure and outline of The Discourse on the Hill, as he forcefully conveys an understanding of human life that actually works. The talk as a whole is given, of course, under the assumption of the availability of the kingdom he proclaimed. Within that framework, the first part of the talk (on the "blesseds" and the light and salt of the earth) revise prevailing assumptions about human well-being by presenting unlikely kinds of people who in fact found and still find blessedness in the kingdom. (The Divine Conspiracy, p. 136)
Kingdom blessedness overflows into the world. Those blessed will be a blessing (Genesis 12:1-3) by infusing the world with the two purposes for salt: seasoning and purification. Overflow also brings light to dark places. We reflect the light of Christ to the world not because we "try harder" to make it shine but Christ's life is infused in us, and it radiates (Psalm 36:9). 

51. The law: Matthew 5:17-20

The radical shift of perspective with regard to "the good life" and who has it led Jesus' hearers to begin suspecting that "the law" was irrelevant to their life in God's world. On the one hand, they were sure that their own lives fell short of the law, those "in charge" never let them forget it. But, on the other hand, Jesus had said that blessedness was still theirs in the kingdom. It sounded to them as if Jesus had set the law aside. 
However "the law" they had in mind and that they rubbed up against every day was not the law of God. It was a contemporary version of the religious respectability, very harsh and oppressive in application, that Jesus referred to as "the goodness of scribes and Pharisee" (5:20). Law as God intended it remains forever essential to the kingdom, and Jesus made it clear to his hearers that his aim is to bring those who follow him into fulfillment of the true law. The fulfilment he had in mind was not for the purpose of making them humanly acceptable. That is quite another matter. But fulfillment of God's law is important because the law is good. It is right for human life. And the presence of the kingdom brings us all that is right for human life. (The Divine Conspiracy, p. 136)
KINGDOM LIVING: PART I (Matthew 5:21-48)

There is a transition point in the Sermon on the Mount. Matthew 5:21-48 brings us to the second question Jesus deals with in this sermon: Who is truly a good person? "Who has the kind of goodness found in God himself, constituting the family likeness between God and his children?" (The Divine Conspiracy, p. 98). How do we fulfill the law in our daily life? How do we not just follow the ancient teaching from the Old Testament and live our life from a heart infused with Jesus' kingdom agape love and light and overflowing into relationships with others? In this section, Jesus takes six Old Testament laws and contrasts them with a kingdom mindset. Of course, Matthew deals with all these questions because he is talking to the Jews.

52. Anger: Matthew 5:21-26 versus Exodus 20:13


The sixth commandment said that murder was forbidden, but what about the heart behind why a person murders? All rash anger is considered "heart murder" as Jesus explained the full meaning behind this commandment.


53. Lust: Matthew 5:27-30 versus Exodus 20:14


The seventh commandment forbade adultery, but Jesus said you commit it even without the act if you lust in your heart. Jesus is not advocating self-mutilation here. He is advocating a change of heart. 


54. Divorce: Matthew 5:31-32 versus Deuteronomy 24:1-4


This is expanding on the seventh commandment. Jesus deals with this in greater detail in Matthew 19:1-12. So, we will leave it until then. 


55. Vows: Matthew 5:33-37 versus Exodus 20:7, Leviticus 19:12; Deuteronomy 23:21-23


Some commentators believe this relates to the third commandment. Pharisees made many oaths, but they used all kinds of tricks to give them an out by not swearing to the holy name of God but to Jerusalem, heaven, earth, or a part of their body. Quoting out of Isaiah 66:1 and Psalm 48:2, Jesus said that swearing by heaven (God's throne), earth (His footstool), and city (Jerusalem) is a binding agreement to God and profanes His name. 


So, our words should just be true because they come out of an honest heart. 


56. Revenge: Matthew 5:38-42 versus Leviticus 24:19-22


Jesus allowed that one should be willing to suffer a loss in order to avoid causing another to suffer. It means even going further by trying to help the person who injures you. 


57. Loving enemies: Matthew 5:43-48 and Luke 6:27-38 versus Leviticus 19:17-18 and Exodus 23:4-5


The law did not allow for hatred of enemies, and Jesus reiterated that. 


REFLECTION


Read about the topic of "Salt and Light" based on one man's thoughts after reading The Divine Conspiracy HERE


Since my breakdown in 1983 (read about it HERE), God has always confirmed to me that this life of grace is all about overflow. I am a very hard worker, and I try (or used to try) REALLY hard. So, I was predisposed to work REALLY hard at following God. The Sermon on the Mount is not a New Testament version of the "dos and don'ts" of the Ten Commandments. It transcends them. That is why I love what Dallas Willard has to say about them:


The Deeper "Beyond" from Which Actions Come 
But the question is, How can one keep the law? Jesus well knew the answer to this question, and that is why he told those who wanted to know how to work the works of God to put their confidence in the one God had sent (John 6:29). He knew that we cannot keep the law by trying to keep the law. To succeed in keeping the law one must aim at something other and something more. One must aim to become the kind of person from whom the deeds of the law naturally flow. The apple tree naturally and easily produces apples because of the inner nature. This is the most crucial thing to remember if we would understand Jesus' picture of the kingdom heart given in the Sermon on the Mount. 
And here also lies the fundamental mistake of the scribe and the Pharisee. They focus on the actions that the law requires and make elaborate specifications of exactly what those actions are and of the manner in which they are to be done. They also generate immense social pressure to force conformity of action to the law as they interpret it. They are intensely self-conscious about doing the right thing and about being thought to have done the right thing.
But the inner dimensions of their personality, their heart and character, are left to remain contrary to what God has required. That heart will, of course, ultimately triumph over their conscious intentions and arrangements, and they will in fact do what they know to be wrong. Their words, especially, will reveal the contents of their heart (Matt. 12:34). And their need to appear righteous "before men" (Luke 15:15) then forces them into hypocrisy. Hypocrisy becomes the spirit, or "yeast," that pervades and colors their entire existence (Luke 12:1). (p. 142)
So how to do we get to the "deeper beyond." "It is the inner life of the soul that we must aim to transform, and then behavior will naturally and easily follow" (p. 144). We need to become "Jesus apples" by abiding in Him.

Heart transformation involves transfusion of the very life of Christ in every pore of our being:

. . . seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Peter 1:3-8) 
I emphasize "true knowledge of God" because many of us have a concept of God that is because of our cultural understanding of Him. Truly knowing God means getting to know Him through daily infusion of His precious and magnificent promises. 

Christmas 2012 was amazing. I had wanted to really understand the whole of Handel's Messiah. So, I listened to a book about it and listened to it over and over again. Well, the whole thing is just God's Word, and I woke up singing it in my head every morning. Jesus was in my heart and I did not respond to the world around me from a point of stress but love. I ended up writing a devotional to share was I learned with others. You can download it here or read it off my Bible Book Club blog here.

Let's allow Him to transform us from the inside out.


APPLICATION


Have a long and deep talk with God over this whole passage and listen to what He says to you.  Take the time to do it.


PRAYER


Infuse us Lord with Yourself, Amen. 
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