Thursday, December 6, 2012

A word on the Beatitudes - 2

In my last post I talked about how the direct audience of the Beatitudes was Jewish believers.  Now I'd like to go into greater detail about why our Lord preached them.  In Matthew 5:17, a mere few verses after the Beatitudes, He clearly states His objective:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

Of course we now know that Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law for us in two ways:  He obeyed the Law perfectly in His life, and He took all our sin upon Himself and thereby died as a sinner in order to pay the penalty of the broken Law for us in His death.  Our Lord was most likely alluding to these truths when He told these Jewish believers that He had come to fulfill the Law, but I don't believe they were His main emphasis.  Here's why:

1.  It isn't until much later, in Matthew 16:21, that we read: "From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised."  So in our Lord's Sermon on the Mount (which includes the Beatitudes), He couldn't have been specifically speaking of His coming death for sin.  Nor should we read into it what Paul later tells us of imputed righteousness, because we are clearly told that when Jesus began to tell His disciples about His coming death and resurrection, Peter rebuked Him for thinking He would be killed (Matt 16:22), and none of the twelve understood what he was talking about (Lk 18:34).

2.  Matthew 5:17 corresponds to the message which He and His apostles had been preaching — "the gospel of the kingdom."  This kingdom, long prophesied and graphically described in the Old Testament, will be based on the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, which was based on the Mosaic Law.  When our Lord reigns as King, and His subjects follow the principles of the Sermon on the Mount, the Law and prophets will be fulfilled.  Not only will God put His Spirit within them and cause them to obey His statutes and ordinances (Ezek 36:27), but the wonderful descriptions of Messiah's reign, called by Peter, "the times of refreshing," will also be fulfilled (Acts 3:19-21; Isa 32 and 35).

Comparing the Sermon on the Mount with Paul's epistles now, let's see what each contains and what each doesn't.  In the first, we find a wonderful way of life on earth proclaimed, but nothing about God's plan of salvation from sin by grace through faith in Christ alone. In the latter we find the message of abounding grace to sinners, but nothing about social reform, equal rights, communal living or anything of that sort. Paul makes it clear that with the rejection of Christ this world was doomed to judgment, but that God in grace delayed the judgment of Israel and the nations so that individuals might find forgiveness and salvation through faith in Christ, who died for our sins (Rom 11:32-34; cf. Eph 1:7; Rom 3:24).

In other words, during the kingdom reign of Christ on earth — when the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount with the Beatitudes are fulfilled —righteousness will reign (Isa 32:1, 16-17; 61:11; Jer 23:5-6).  But now — though the days are evil (Eph 5:16) and godlessness grows (2 Tim 3:1-9), though righteousness is trampled upon (Heb 10:29) and Christ remains an exile (Heb 1:13; 10:12-14) — GRACE REIGNS!  This is not because He is being lenient, but rather righteous; i.e. the righteousness of Christ is paying the penalty for our sins, so that it is now a righteous thing on God's part to justify the believing sinner.

It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus (Rom 3:26).

To those of you who have not yet placed your faith in Jesus Christ's death on your behalf, there is still time to respond. God is patiently extending grace to all who will believe. 

What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? (Rom 9:22-24) 

He won't be patient forever, so please take Him up on His offer now while you still have the chance.

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life (Jn 3:16).

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