Sunday, December 9, 2012

A word on the Beatitudes - 3

Isn't there any application in the Beatitudes for us today, then?

Of course there is — because "all Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (2 Tim 2:16-17). But in order to apply it correctly, we must first remember who the audience is, the circumstances of the particular portion of Scripture, AND that Scripture isn't always written directly to us or about us.  For the Beatitudes, the audience is believing Jews who are still under the Law, and the circumstances are — the kingdom is at hand.

So keeping this in mind, let's look at the following beatitudes:

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

We can apply this verse to ourselves in a general way.  Remember, prophecy tells us that Israel will one day repent and turn to Christ and mourn for all the years they didn't, and that this particular verse is referring to that and how they will be comforted when Christ reigns in the earthly kingdom.  However, we can apply this to when we were saved.  We too came to a point when we realized and mourned our sinful state before placing our faith in Christ's finished work on the cross for us.

This verse does not, however, give us permission to constantly dredge up every sin we remember committing between now and when we go home to be with our Lord and mourn over it. Never does Paul tell us to beat ourselves up over our sinfulness after we're saved.  In Romans 7 (cf. Gal 5:17) Paul acknowledges that he (and we) still sins — that a battle continues to wage between his "inmost self" and his "members" — but instead of mourning over it, he concludes that "I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin," and rejoices that "there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1)." And though continually admonishing us to keep putting off the old self and putting on the new (Eph 4:21-24; Col 3:5-17), he still tells us to — "Rejoice ALWAYS!" (1 Thes 5:16; Phil 4:4; cf Heb 10:1-12) 

This means that we shouldn't be mourning over our sins, then rejoicing, then mourning our sins, then rejoicing, etc.  What a vicious cycle to be in!  There is a difference, of course, between mourning temporarily about a sin we regularly fall into and mourning habitually about our sinfulness. The first is healthy, the second is not. Why?  Because in Christ we have already been forgiven all our sinspast, present, and future.  In Christ we are already clean!  So rejoice always in Christ!  (For more on this see "1 John 1:9" and "Complete in Him" and "I'm Clean!")

I like the way my late brother-in-law use to end his benedictions — "Leave Rejoicing in the Lord!"  Comforting indeed.

Let's look at another beatitude:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matt 5:6).

We shouldn't assume that our Lord was speaking of imputed righteousness here, because the theme of Paul's epistle to the Romans was clearly not the theme of our Lord's message to the Jewish disciples.

Let's imagine again that we are one of these Jewish believers so that we can get a clear understanding of His message to them.  Under the rule of Rome, the people of Israel had to bear a lot of injustice and unrighteousness.  They suffered a lot of injustice and unrighteousness from their own religious leaders, too (Matt 23:1-7).  This, of course, caused many to hunger and thirst after righteousness, and in this beatitude our Lord promised that in His kingdom their hunger and thirst will be satisfied.

Jeremiah 23:5 confirms this interpretation of the passage because it says that our Lord, in His coming reign, will "execute justice and righteousness in the land."  Isaiah 11:4 tells us that He will "decide with equity for the meek of the earth; and he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth."  In other words, he will judge in their behalf.  Isaiah 32:1 tells us that under His reign "princes will rule in justice," and Isaiah 26:9 that "the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness."  In fact, Old Testament prophecy is full of promises and descriptions of the righteousness that will prevail on earth at that time.

But in Paul's epistles our Lord goes straight to the heart of the matter and explains that man's case is hopeless apart from redeeming grace. "Scripture," he says, "imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe" (Gal 3:22), since "none is righteous, no, not one" (Rom 3:10).  In fact, he explains that the Law was given for the exact purpose of demonstrating man's unrighteousness (Rom 3:19) and his desperate need for a Savior.

BUT NOW the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 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 3:21-26).

"...not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (Phil 3:9). 

Blessed for sure are those who hunger and thirst after this righteousness — righteousness that is not their own — for they will be satisfied!

Okay, last one:

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God (Matt 5:9).

While the words "blessed are the peacemakers" apply to God's people in every age, the promise which follows certainly does not.  Today peacemakers are by no means always, or even generally, "called sons of God."  In fact, they're often called troublemakers.

But the whole passage does apply specifically to the kingdom which our Lord proclaimed "at hand" while He was on earth.  The  Messianic kingdom will be characterized by the peace that will prevail then.  When our Lord returns to reign, "He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples, and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore" (Isa 2:4).

In Isaiah 9:6-7 it says that Messiah is "the Prince of Peace," and that "of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end..."  But before international peace can be achieved there must be peace among God's people, and this is the theme of the Sermon on the Mount: the peace that flows from sincere love will one day flow from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth.

This peace we, as members of the Church today, should daily seek to foster (Rom 14:19), not in view of the kingdom being established, but as fellow members of the "one body" (Eph 4:3-6).

While there can be no international peace until our Lord returns to judge between the nations (Isa 2:4), the message that we have been commissioned to proclaim is one of "grace and peace," not peace among men, but personal peace with God, made possible by His grace.

The peace that men will enjoy under Messiah's reign will be largely destroyed again at its close (though the kingdom itself and His people will not be destroyed - Isa 9:7), as we read in Revelation 20:7-9.  But the peace that Paul's epistles proclaim will never be disrupted, because it is the gift of God's grace through the finished work of Christ, "who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.  Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ" (Rom 4:25-5:1).

Not only do we by faith have "peace with God," but we also by faith have access to the "peace of God, which surpasses all understanding" (Phil 4:6-7).

May God help us to fulfil our commission to proclaim reconciliation and peace to a world at war with Him, so that many more may come to know "peace with God" and "the peace of God."

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 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 5:14-21).

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