Friday, November 23, 2012

A word on the Beatitudes

The Beatitudes, which are part of the Sermon on the Mount, can be found most completely in Matthew 5:

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 satisfied.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive 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 others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.

Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you (Matt 5:3-12) 

Many people who read these beatitudes, however, fail to ask the basic questions: "To whom was our Lord speaking?" "What were the circumstances?" "Why did He preach them?"  Applying them to all men alike, they say that this is the way we ought to live.  But emphasizing good works will never reform fallen human nature, and it's a big mistake to think that this was the purpose of the Sermon on the Mount.

So to whom was our Lord speaking?  Was He speaking to all men?  Not at all, because not only was He "sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel," He clearly instructed His apostles to "go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matt 15:24; 10:5-6).  He wasn't even speaking to the people of Israel as such at that time, because we read that "seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain" and that there He addressed "His disciples" (Matt 5:1).  All through this sermon our Lord distinguishes His disciples from the world, even the religious world, around them.

He certainly wasn't addressing the members of the Body of Christ because much of what He said doesn't and can't be directly applied to us today. The merciful today don't always obtain mercy; those who mourn are by no means always comforted; peacemakers are not generally called the children of God, and certainly the meek don't inherit the earth. They've never inherited it since these promises were first made.

Actually, the Sermon on the Mount — and especially its Beatitudes — is one of the strongest evidences that the Body of Christ was still a mystery "hidden for ages in God" as Paul so often tells us (Eph 3:1-11; Col 1:24-2:2), because our Lord addressed His disciples, the remnant of believers in Israel, as if the prophesied time of tribulation were imminent and the establishment of His kingdom were soon to take place.

Try to picture the scene back then among the Jewish believers. The prophecies of the Old Testament concerning Messiah had been fulfilled — He had actually come, and the establishment of His kingdom was "at hand." This is why John the Baptist, our Lord, and His twelve apostles all went about proclaiming the same message: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Matt 3:1-2; 4:17; 10:7). Theirs was "the gospel of the kingdom," not "the gospel of the grace of God," and certainly not "the preaching of the cross."

The Beatitudes, then, give us the characteristics of those who will be heirs of the kingdom to be established on the earth one day.  Against this background, let's look at a few of the Beatitudes individually and see how perfectly they harmonize with "the gospel of the kingdom" which our Lord and His apostles preached.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matt 5:3).

The millennial kingdom will be made up, not of those who are spiritually smug, but rather of those who realize their spiritual need.  Pride will not be tolerated under the reign of Christ.  Rather His kingom will be built on humility and love.  Today, however, we are not asked to be anything to inherit a position in Christ, only to trust in Him who died for our sins.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted (Matt 5:4).

This promise is particularly significant in light of Old Testament prophecies and Pentecost, because mourning has a special relation to Israel's latter days. This is clear when we look at the ministry and message of John the Baptist, our Lord on earth, and the twelve apostles. They all came proclaiming to apostate Israel to repent because the kingdom of heaven was at hand.

Instead of repenting, however, Israel crucified her Messiah.  In response to our Lord's prayer on the cross for their forgiveness (Lk 23:34), God gave them another chance at Pentecost when Peter offered them the return of Christ if they would repent (Acts 2:38; 3:19-21).  But again, rather than repent they stood their ground, even stoning Stephen to death and waging war against the disciples of Christ.

According to prophecy, Israel will one day repent and mourn.  In that day Israel will finally respond to God's call to repent and turn to Christ, and friends and neighbors, even husbands and wives, will be ashamed to look at each other as they mourn over their long rejection of Messiah. 

And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy, so that, when they look on me, on him whom they have pierced, they shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child, and weep bitterly over him, as one weeps over a firstborn. On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land shall mourn, each family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves" (Zech 12:10-14).

Many other Old Testament Scriptures tell us that Israel will not be saved until she turns in repentance to her crucified Messiah (Zech 13:1; Isa 51:11-12; 40:1-2; 61:1-3).  These passages agree with the words of our Lord in Matthew 24:30: "...and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."  They also agree with Revelation 1:7: "Behold, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him, and all tribes of the earth will wail on account of him. Even so. Amen."

But is this how we are saved today?  No, because God interrupted the prophetic program and sent Paul to proclaim to all men that God had enthroned grace (Rom 5:20-21), committing to him "the gospel," the good news, "of the grace of God" (Acts 20:24).  Unlike Peter at Pentecost, Paul doesn't charge men with the crucifixion of Christ.  Rather he says, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor 5:21). 

In Romans 5:10 Paul even makes the amazing statement that "we [once enemies] were reconciled to God by the death of his Son."  Whereas, according to the prophetic program, the cross made the enmity between God and man (Ps 2:1-5; 110:1), Paul says that according to God's eternal purpose the enmity was slain by the cross, i.e., He counted that death the payment for our sins, so that He could "preach peace" to us Gentles "who were far off and peace to those [Israel] who were near (Eph 2:16-17).

In Paul's message, our Lord is no longer seen as a victim—even a voluntary victim—at Calvary, but as the victor over Satan, sin, death, and the Law. "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him" (Col 2:15), at the same time He took the Law, "set aside, nailing it to the cross" (Col 2:14).  It is He who, at the cross, paid the penalty for our sins and delivered us from the fear of death (Heb 2:14).  Where do we find any of this in the Sermon on the Mount?

Okay, one more:  Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth (Matt 5:5).

It's very possible that our Lord chose these words from Psalm 37:11 where we read: "But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace."  Obviously our Lord spoke these words with the kingdom in view because the meek certainly don't inherit the earth today.  When this promise was made the Roman Empire was ruling with brutal force, and during the centuries that followed, tyrants like Julius Caesar, Napoleon Bonaparte, Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Josef Stalin have acquired large portions of this earth by taking them.  But when our Lord returns to reign, the meek will indeed inherit the earth. 

While it has not been promised to us that we will inherit the earth (see previous post about this here), we have been given a position in the highest heaven in and with Christ.  By grace God has seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph 2:6) and has there already "blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing" (Eph 1:3).  Some day, in changed and resurrected bodies, we "will be caught up" to meet and be with Him forever (1 Thes 4:16-18; 1 Cor 15:51-52).  What a wonderful day that will be!

(to be cont)

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

When Trials Come

Sometimes life gets overwhelming  — money problems, health concerns, family tensions, etc. — but in it all God is with us.  Even more, He is working through all these things to our benefit (Rom 8:28-30).

When trials come no longer fear
For in the pain our God draws near
To fire a faith worth more than gold
And there His faithfulness is told
And there His faithfulness is told
Within the night I know Your peace
The breath of God brings strength to me
And new each morning mercy flows
As treasures of the darkness grow
As treasures of the darkness grow
I turn to Wisdom not my own
For every battle You have known
My confidence will rest in You
Your love endures Your ways are good
Your love endures Your ways are good
When I am weary with the cost
I see the triumph of the cross
So in its shadow I shall run
Till He completes the work begun
Till He completes the work begun
One day all things will be made new
I'll see the hope You called me to
And in your kingdom paved with gold
I'll praise your faithfulness of old
I'll praise your faithfulness of old

by Keith and Kristyn Getty


Sunday, November 4, 2012

WWJD (What would Jesus do?)

We often hear that a Christian is a follower of Jesus Christ, and that it doesn't really matter what you believe as long as you are following Him. There are few things to keep in mind regarding our Lord Jesus' life here on earth, though.

When He was eight days old He was circumcised (Lk 2:21).

He was born UNDER THE LAW (Gal 4:4) and came to fulfill the law (Matt 5:17-18).

He recognized the authority of those who were in the LAW SEAT while here on the earth (Matt 23:1-3).

When He was thirty years old, AS HIS CUSTOM WAS, He attended the Jewish ‘LAW’ services in the Jewish synagogue on the SEVENTH DAY JEWISH SABBATH (Lk 4:16).

In Luke 12:33 He said, "Sell your possessions, and give to the needy." (For more on this, see Sell Everything.)

In Matthew 10:8 He said, "Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons."

In Luke 6:30 the He said: "Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back."

He said, in Matthew 6:17, "But when you fast, anoint your head and WASH your face." Then in Hebrews 9:10 we are told that the WASHINGS were imposed on the Jews until THE TIME OF THE NEW ORDER.

In 1 Corinthians 11:1, however, we are told to be imitators of Paul as he followed Christ. (See also Phil 3:17). Christ was speaking in Paul (2 Cor 13:3). Members of the Body of Christ today are not in the will of God in following Jesus of Nazareth in much that He did and said while on earth. In fact, they cannot intelligently follow Jesus Christ unless they follow the truth revealed by Christ to and through Paul.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Acts 17

It's been a rather overwhelming couple of months.  I haven't been blogging because I've either been out of town, sick, and/or extremely busy.  To jump back in, I thought I'd post this quote by C.R. Stam talking about the seventeenth chapter of Acts.  If you've been following my bible study blog — justme2 — you'll have already seen this.  But because I think it's so good, I'm bringing it over to this blog, too.

"At the synagogue in Thessalonica Paul reasoned out of the Scriptures for three sabbaths (or weeks) with men who were unwilling to listen, with the result that only a few (Gr. 'certain') of them believed, while 'a great multitude' of the Gentiles believed. What Paul preached was new to them and they refused to consider it, letting the Gentiles put them, God's chosen people, to shame ... The Athenisans went to the other extreme. They lost interest in what was old and clamoured only to hear the new. Yet if what they heard did not appeal to them some 'mocked' while others said, more politely: 'We will hear thee again of this matter,' with the result that there too the fruit was meagre ... Significantly, the record of the Bereans comes between those of the Thessalonians and the Athenians. The Bereans possessed the true spiritual greatness to give man's word a respectful hearing, whether old or new, and then to subject it to an examination in the light of God's Word. The result was that 'therefore many of them believed,' in comparison with few of the Thessalonians and the Athenians."

"If there is anything this passage teaches it is that every believer is responsible to examine even the best teaching in the light of the Scriptures, that every preacher should expect his teachings to be so examined and should thank God for those who do this. Indeed, it is a sign of a lack of spiritual greatness when men of God resent Scriptural examination of their teachings by their hearers. The purity of the Church, doctrinally, depends not upon loyalty to the dogmas of the Church, but upon the maintenance of the Berean spirit among the people of God ... Let us never close our minds so as to keep error out, for in doing so we will only shut new light out and close old errors in. Moreover, it is but a small step from shutting out new light from God's Word to engaging in bitter opposition to it ... How this lesson is needed in the professing Church today among preachers as well as hearers! Modernists cast away precious treasures of the Bible, explaining that they are old and out of date, while Fundamentalists, clinging to old truth (and error) reject new light simply because it is new! Modernists vie with each other to keep up to date, intellectually, while Fundamentalists vie with each other to be orthodox, when both should make it their aim to be Scriptural, bowing in faith before the Word of God."

I couldn't agree with him more!  How about you?