Matthew

Thoughts on the Beatitudes, Part 5

Thoughts on the Beatitudes, Part 5

[5] “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.

There is a tendency to view meekness as weakness.a The meek is not someone who capitulates over the face of threats. He doesn’t retreat and act as if it is all a lost cause. We need to re-orient our minds to how the Bible views these characteristics. Remember that the kingdom of God is upside down to those in the world; and in one sense, the way the people of God live is upside down in comparison to how the rest of the world lives. R.J. Rushdoony once wrote that meekness is strength that is tamed. The meek know that their strength comes from Yahweh; he trusts and places his trust in Yahweh to make the world right; he sees Jesus as the ultimate restorer of Israel and the world. The meek has been united to the kingdom of heaven and has a new Lord and Master. He is being built up in the strength and maturity of Christ, the King, but yet this strength is balanced by self-control. The meek does not use his strength to lord it over people or to belittle others inside or outside the kingdom, but he uses his strength as a means to reveal the power of God and his kingdom. Consider Moses. The Bible says he was the meekest man in all the earth (Num. 12:3). Moses was known for his strength. He led an army and shepherded a nation. And when he was accused by others he didn’t say: “Look at me; the all-powerful Moses; the rescuer of Israel, the destroyer of Egyptian forces.” No. Moses restrained his strength and humbled himself before God praying that God would vindicate him in light of his enemies. Are you beginning to see the picture?

The way God honors this controlled strength is by giving the heirs of the kingdom, the earth!

But why would God give us the earth? We are the heirs of the Abrahamic promise. In Romans 4, Paul says that the promise is that we will be the heirs of the world. This earth, this system, this land, this air, everything is given to us; to inherit and to embrace. This is our world, not the devil’s, it is our world given to us by the ruler of the world, Jesus Christ. And the way we begin to claim it and adorn it and fashion it according to the kingdom of heaven is by being meek.

Practically, this means controlling your strength. How often are we guilty of using our strength or our position of authority to deride or to put down another? How often have we used our strength or our position in life to abuse our authority? How do we as parents conquer our children and their hearts? Do we assert our authority or do we win them with the way of meekness? How we assert our authority without abusing our strength is precisely what it means to be meek. And if we are going to rule the earth as God’s army we need to begin by being meek.

Our Lord Jesus did precisely that. He could have come to earth and obliterated all those Pharisees who disagreed with Him. He could have used His angels to bring about perfect justice, but this is not the Christ we know. The Christ we know is the one who became meek for our sakes and because He inherited the earth in His death and resurrection, we too are called to follow in His steps.

[6] “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

The fourth beatitude, which concludes this first section, is a call for righteousness. What does it look like to pursue righteousness? It looks like keeping Yahweh’s commandments. After all, Jesus is the one who said that if you love me keep my commandments (Jn. 14:15). It is a call to righteous living. We should hunger to be more obedient to God. We should hunger to live the gospel of the kingdom. This is what distinguishes the people of the kingdom from those outside it. But not only is hungering and thirsting for righteousness a call to pursue maturity, it is also a call to hunger and thirst for the establishment of righteousness on earth. We don’t want to see the world spoiled and destroyed. We need to be as hungry and thirsty for righteousness on earth as we are hungry and thirsty for food and drink. We can’t be satisfied with what we have. In what sense have we lacked hunger and thirst for righteousness? How are you encouraging one another to hunger for righteousness? Is your living such that when others see you they develop a tremendous appetite for righteousness? These are the questions we need to ask.

As you begin to increase in hunger and thirst for righteousness you will find a deep satisfaction in the life of the kingdom. You will learn that this is the good life; the life worth living; a life of active participation in making earth more and more like heaven.

  1. Peter Leithart’s exposition of the Beatitudes are quite helpful in clearing some misunderstandings. Audio found at Reformation Covenant Church in Oregon.  (back)

Thoughts on the Beatitudes, Part 4

Martin Luther once said:

`Twas a strange thing the world should be offended at him who raised the dead, made the blind to see, and the deaf to hear, etc. They who would deem such a man a devil, what kind of a God would they have? But here it is. Christ would give to the world the kingdom of heaven, but they will have the kingdom of the earth…”a

A short review will help as we discuss the next beatitude.

The world perceives the kingdom of heaven to be a threat to their kingdoms. As the atheists of the first century acknowledged, these Christians turned the world upside down with their message and their lives. The kingdom is God’s world coming to earth. This new world is a world that manifests itself in an entirely different fashion than the present kingdoms. It is upside down; it is foolish to those whore are perishing.

In short, the Beatitudes are instructions for how we are to live in this world; but beyond that, it is also how we turn the world upside down. The Beatitudes reveal how the actions of Christians will transform the world from an ethic of shame to an ethic of honor. They are value statements. When you read them do not limit the word blessed as simply happy, but look at it as honorable.  In other words, to live this Beatitude/Beatific life is an honor. Jesus is saying that if you live in this way you will be honored and exalted in due time. Again, this is the paradox of the Christian message: that when you are poor in spirit you are honored in the kingdom of heaven.

The Beatitudes serve as a poem divided into two sections; each section contains 36 words. In this poem, Jesus is not telling us that if we live this way we will enter the kingdom of heaven, rather Jesus is saying that this is how kingdom-disciples live; those who have been transformed by the grace of the gospel are now called to transform the world.

We established the first beatitude “poor in spirit” as a foundational beatitude to understanding the other seven. To be poor in spirit is to depend on the infinite riches of God in Christ Jesus; it is to reject the self-sufficient way that so many live in our day, and instead embrace a life of supreme dependence upon God’s Word. Our look at the Beatitudes continues in verse 4:

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

[2] And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

[3] “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

[4] “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.

The Beatitudes are about Jesus coming as Restorer of His people. Israel has been an outcast and now Jesus comes to restore her; but he is coming to restore a particular type of people– a people who mourn. How honorable it is for those who mourn, for they shall be comforted! This is a fulfillment of Isaiah 61, which says that Yahweh will comfort those who mourn.What is Jesus not saying not saying in this Beatitude? Jesus is not saying that those who are constantly in a state of self-pity and shame and who are looking deeply inwardly for sins and are crying over their transgressions will be comforted. There is a sense in which we mourn over our sins, but this is not what mourning means in the context of the Beatitudes. In this context, those who mourn are those who grieve over the condition of this present world. Those who mourn are those who hope that the world will be made right. Those who mourn have a biblical sense that something is not right in this world and this leads to marvelous expectation for the work of the kingdom of heaven. Those who mourn will be comforted because they know that the kingdom of heaven is the only hope for the world. They believe that the Gospel will transform lives and form a new humanity. N.T. Wright says:

But the whole point of the Gospels is that the coming of God’s kingdom on earth as in heaven is precisely not the imposition of an alien and dehumanizing tyranny, but rather the confrontation of alien and dehumanizing tyrannies with the news of a God—the God recognized in Jesus—who is radically different from them all, and whose in-breaking justice aims at rescuing and restoring genuine humanness…b

N.T. Wright summarizes well this beatitude. Those who mourn are those who seek the shalom of the city; they are the ones who desire to see the present world reconciled to Jesus Christ and who desire the kingdom of heaven to be the ultimate and true kingdom of all the world. Those who mourn wish to see that tyrants will be confronted by the good news of God’s kingdom and be humbled and bow down to King Jesus. This beatitude is a parallel to the prophetic word of the prophet Ezekiel in chapter 9. In that chapter, Yahweh is going to destroy the city, but He will protect and mark one particular group of people: those who mourn over the abominations of the city. These are the ones who will be comforted. This background shapes how we understand this beatitude. The ones mourning are the ones who grieve over the atrocities and the many sins committed against Yahweh and His anointed One. The people in the kingdom of heaven don’t live their lives expecting to escape this  they live their lives hoping to see this world transformed. This is why we are called to mourn, and in our mourning we will find that Yahweh will comfort us with a vision of a transformed world.

Practically, we cannot mourn something we do not understand. We cannot understand the depths of this broken world unless we see this broken world. We are called to act in our mourning. Crying over the lost condition of the world is not enough. We mourn by participating in restoration. We lament the state of things and we know that there is destruction and doom for those who do not turn to the kingdom of heaven in repentance, but we also become active participants in restoring this broken world. The vision is global, but it begins locally. We begin by looking to our own city; to our own neighborhoods and our own families. Is there enough brokenness around us to keep us longing and mourning for God’s kingdom? How honorable are those who mourn; who understand the true significance of how the world has been wrecked by sin, but also how the world will be restored by Jesus Christ. They who mourn will be comforted.

  1. Martin Luther, http://www.reformed.org/master/index.html?mainframe=/documents/Table_talk/table_talk.html  (back)
  2. http://godspace.wordpress.com/2010/03/15/nt-wright-the-kingdom-of-god-and-the-need-for-social-justice/  (back)

Thoughts on the Beatitudes, Part 2

Before we delve into the Beatitudes we are confronted with the first two verses, which establish the background for the Beatitudes.

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:

Mountain and Mouth

There are two words that need to be stressed in these verses, and they are mountain and mouth. First, the gospel of Matthew is full of mountains. In fact, the first mountain we see is in Matthew four where Satan takes Jesus up on the mountain and offers him all authority if He only bows down and worships him. The last mountain is in Matthew 28 where Jesus gives forth his Commission to his disciples on a mountain. Jesus begins on a mountain in Matthew four being offered all authority and he ends in Matthew 28 with all authority in heaven and earth not because He submitted to the devil, but because He conquered the devil by giving His life through death.

And why are there so many allusions to mountains in the gospel? The simple answer is that Matthew is drawing our attention to that great mountain in the Old Covenant where Moses received the laws of Yahweh and instructed the people how to live and how to be a different people from the nations around them. Jesus is the greater/better Moses. Just as Moses gave Yahweh’s law to the people, so now Jesus, as the Law-giver, instructs his people how to live and consequently how to become a different people, a kingdom people different from all the other earthly kingdoms. The Sermon on the Mount is an extension of the laws of Moses; it was what Moses’ law always intended, but in Christ these laws are lived out in fullness, loyalty, and righteousness. The Sermon on the Mount is not a set of harsh, moralistic, legalistic rules to live by, they are life-transforming, grace-giving instructions from on high.

The second word to consider is the word mouth. It is important to see that these words are proceeding from the mouth of Jesus. In Deuteronomy 8 the people are told to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. Jesus rebukes Satan by pointing back to Deuteronomy, and now in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is the one who speaks authoritatively. Jesus is affirming that He is Yahweh in the flesh. Just as Israel needed to live by the words of Yahweh, this new Israel—composed of Jews and Gentiles—need to live from the words that proceed out of the mouth of Jesus, the Christ. These words in verses 3-12 are the words of a new world order given by a new Moses to a new people.

An Honorable People

There are eight beatitudes in this sermon. Some have translated the word beatitude as happy or blessed, but a more accurate way of understanding this term is by translating it as honorable. These are value statements. The Beatitudes are not characteristics of a pitiful/shameful people, but these are characteristics of an honorable people; a people who have been exalted because of their dependence on God. Saint Peter says that if we humble ourselves before the Lord He will exalt us in due time.a The people of the kingdom are being honored and exalted when they live according to the laws of the kingdom.b These beatitudes are set against the shameful characteristics of those outside the kingdom. Jesus is saying, “How honorable are those who live under these gracious laws!”

Another element concerning the beatitudes is their poetic naturec. The first section, the first four beatitudes, contains 36 words; and the second section, the last four, also contains 36 words c forming a perfect poem. We are considering a piece of poetry as we look at the Beatitudes.

One final observation and a crucial one before we look in great detail in the next few posts. As we apply these beatitudes we must remember that these are not intended for those who want to be in the kingdom or as a way of getting in the kingdom, no; these are for those who are already in the kingdom seeking to expand and live out the ethic of the kingdom. We are not to see these as ways of getting in the kingdom, but as ways of living the kingdom out.

Part 1

  1. I Peter 5:6.  (back)
  2. K.C. Hanson’s analysis of “Honor and Shame in the Ancient World.  (back)
  3. Leithart writes: “12 is the number of Israel and 72 is the number of the Table of Nations in Genesis 10.”  (back)

Husbands and Headship: The Art of Dying

We live in a culture that views headship as abusive. In the Bible, however, headship is central to the stability of the home. Protestant and evangelical men need to see this headship in the context of the great covenant responsibilities that come with that role. The man who views his headship cavalierly views his role in the home with un-biblical eyes.

I have met many men who come to see the need for headship in the home, and have made the necessary changes to their husbandry. Some of these men came to these convictions late in life, and therefore, the changes occurred too quickly; especially for their families. They went from rarely reading the Bible themselves to requiring family devotions with a 45 minute sermon. Dad went from barely feeding his family spiritually to stuffing his family. Children grow up dreading the evening “services”, and the wife, on the one hand, gives thanks to God for the change in her husband, while on the other, wondering if God misunderstood her prayers.

God knew all things, of course. The problem is sinners have made an art of over-reacting. Pastors need to watch out for these types and bring their enthusiasm to a proper balance.

But the Church is not suffering because of over-zealous husbands/ fathers; she is suffering for the lack of any zeal in husbands/fathers.

In particular, husbands are called to meet the needs of their wives. He is the provider, sustainer, and the one called by God to make his wife lovely. The wife is lovely when the husband beautifies her. Jesus is the head of the Church and part of his ascension task is to make his bride beautiful (Eph. 5). He comforts her with words of affirmation. He protects her for physical and spiritual abuse. He is her Boaz and David; a redeemer and king. The home serves as the castle. Pastors usually know when he enters a home whether it is being beautified or whether it has lost its beauty. I am not referring to neatness and tidiness; I am referring to the grace of a home. When that pastor leaves, he may have just left a pretty tomb with dead man’s bones. Grace makes a home, and the husband is the grace-giver. How he speaks, how he communicates, how he rebukes, how he seeks forgiveness; all these things demonstrate and encapsulate the type of headship he is embodying.

The husband is a resident theologian. He may not be a vocational theologian, but his actions and speech are the word and deed that his family will hear most often. When the husband lives a life of constant hypocrisy, his lectures will become dull and lose meaning. When his life demonstrates humility and the virtue of repentance, then his lectures, even the boring ones, will sink deeply into the fabric of the home.

The evangelical husband is a lover of truth. Truth keeps him from abusing his headship; truth keeps him from prioritizing his friends over his own family; truth keeps him from isolating himself from the Christian body; truth keeps him from turning headship into abuse. He must be, as Douglas Wilson once observed, “a small pebble that somehow by the grace of God pictures the Rock that is Christ.”[1]

The responsibility of being the head of the home is the responsibility of many, but the practice of some. Headship implies dying for your wife, and many prefer to see their spouse die than themselves. So men, let’s die together for our wives, and let’s show the world that death brings life.


[1] Wilson, Douglas. Reforming Marriage, 39.