Wednesday, October 07, 2009

This Is The Sound of Inevitability (Matthew 5:1-6)

Foray into Sermon on the Mount looked to be fairly epic. Adequate fortification was necessary.

Café Hacienda L.A. Burger
L.A. Burgers at Café Hacienda, Dempsey

The Handburger, Raffles City The Handburger, Raffles City
The Handburger, Raffles City Blue Cheese Beef Burger, The Handburger
The Handburger at Raffles City. Interior thanks to Plystudio. Dry-pattied blue cheese beef burger no thanks to kitchen dude.

During Main Course
A well-lubricated good dinner on pretty Klaus Haapaniemi plates. Now if only the tastebuds had returned in time for the occasion.

Human culture has been built great epic stories. The most exciting sort feature long journeys into far-flung little-known lands by quaint systems of transportation, muscley heroes with big personalities (all set up for a hubris-catharsis moment, or if un-muscley, weak and unimpressive then all set for journey-as-bildungsroman). If Jason had sobbingly declined Pelias' offer of the throne citing lack of ability and abject incompetence, The Argonautica (if written containing Jason's monumental list of personal defects) would have been the laughing stock of the Ancient Greeks. Whether bundled with willing or reluctant heroes, the quests completed at each pitstop in a packaged expedition has been a sure hit for all peoples of all ages. Like scaling the highest mountain or exploring the darkest depths of the sea, we love celebrating the human spirit - the affirmation that humans can prevail, overcome and conquer all difficulties and enemies as long as they put their minds and wills to it. Less nobly, prime content for macho boasts at drinking parties and a money-churner on the inspirational/motivational talk circuit. So the Crusaders rode out to heathen places for land and glory, and returned with citrus fruits, bags of sugar and a future cameo in Dan Brown's bestsellers.

But Jesus said that the people blessed by God are very different kettle of fish altogether. (The 9 "blesseds"/"Beatitudes" are often regarded as Jesus' rules for successfully happy living, which is about as logical and realistic an interpretation as pinning the tail on the donkey in a physical vacuum. "According to experts", the Greek makarios translated to the English "blessed" has in its family tree the name he makaria, given to the island of Cyprus which was apparently so bountiful and beautiful that all who lived on in were completely satisfied and had no interest in the outside world because nothing could be better than that heaven on earth. A blessed person is to be congratulated on his state for he has everything supremely desirable. That person is to be honoured and affirmed in his state. He is approved. More importantly and specifically in context then, blessedness in the Old Testament (via the Septuagint) is the condition of a man who has been approved by God and having God's grace and favour, has been given the gift of salvation (eg. Psalm 32:1-2).)
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 false on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matthew 5:3-12)
Exclusive Membership
Familiar words often misused. In the context of the coming of King Jesus and the inauguration of his kingdom (Matthew 1-9), the blessed are those who will be subjects in his kingdom, that is, Christians, the ones who will suffer because of Jesus (Matthew 5:11). Matthew 5:3 and 5:10 also bracket together the intervening verses, suggesting that the blessed person described in the entire passage is one and the same - one whom God has promised the kingdom of heaven. Therefore:
1. All Christians are meant to manifest these characteristics, not just the "holier" or "godlier" ones.

2. No one who is not Christian will be able boast of any of these characteristics, however nice they might be. One cannot say "So-and-so does not claim to be Christian, never reads the Bible nor prays nor submits to God. But, you know, he's so nice and polite and patient and never says a harsh word and is so encouraging, I think he's more of a Christian than many people who warm a church pew."
Matthew 5:3-10 is a description of the Christian: this is the sort of man he is. Matthew 5:11-12 then shows us the character of the Christian as proved by the reaction of the world to him: because he is the sort of man he is, the world reacts this way to him. Matthew 5:13-16 is an account of the relationship of the Christian to the world: God's purpose for and so the function of the Christian in society and in the world.

Commencement and Term of Membership
Matthew 5:3 and 5:10 are the only verses in the "beatitudes" where blessedness is expressed in the present tense. As the disciples were blessed then with the kingdom Jesus was inaugurating, so the Christian is blessed now with membership of the kingdom inaugurated by Christ. But the kingdom in full glory and so membership with all its privileges is not yet (see future tense in 5:4-9).

Description of the Character of Members
What sort of man gains membership? Well, the man who is "poor in spirit" (Matthew 5:3), who is fully aware that he absolutely, irrevocably, uncontroversially fails the meet the criteria for membership. The man who knows all too well that his righteousness cannot exceed that of the Pharisees ("unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20)). There is a tremendous awareness of his nothingness before God. There is a complete absence of pride, self-assurance and self-reliance. He puts no confidence in his theological education and training, his position in life, whatever talents has been given to him, nor the chuminess of his natural temperament to stand him in good stead before God. And because Christ had not come to abolish the Old Testament but to fulfil it, none of this is new. Already, God'd spoken through Isaiah saying:
this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word. (Isaiah 66:2)
And quite inevitably, as the man is confronted with God and his holiness, sees where he himself as he is, he cannot help but mourn (Matthew 5:4). Every night, running through his day, he considers what he has done and said and thought and behaved with respect to others and finds that he has done things he ought not to have done and harboured thoughts and ideas and feelings most foul, and is smitten with grief and sorrow that he was ever capable of such deeds and thoughts, and mourns. And like Jesus himself who wept over the city of Jerusalem, the Christian too mourns over the moral messes, the unhappiness, the suffering of the whole of mankind. God too had spoken in the past of the blessedness of those who mourn for their sin and the sin of others:
The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me,
because the LORD has anointed me...
to grant to those who mourn in Zion—
to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes,
the oil of gladness instead of mourning,
the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit;
that they may be called oaks of righteousness,
the planting of the LORD, that he may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:3)

This was written to God's people when they were in exile under the judgement of God.
And just as inevitably, having seen his own utter nothingness and helplessness face to face with the demands of the law of God, having mourned his sin and inner evil, the man cannot then relate to another person in any other way than in meekness (Matthew 5:5). This meekness is not a natural temperament like how some dogs are nice and friendly and easy to get on with and others are plain irritable and love nothing more than getting their little sharp teeth around a stray finger. This meekness is born of a clear-eyed assessment of where he stands before God and in the world and so, like Moses (the meekest man on earth (Numbers 12:3)), the meek man does not demand his rights, his position, his privileges, his possessions or his status in life. He does not bother protecting himself or going on the defensive because he does not see anything worth protecting or defending. He does not pity himself or explain away his own sin saying,"You are having a hard time. You didn't really mean to do/think that. God will understand." or "If only these people had caught me in a good mood, they would know how godly I really am.". He is not more concerned about justifying himself and his actions; instead, he trusts God (Zephaniah 3:12) and busies himself edifying his brother. And meekness is not an optional extra to the Christian life. God'd said previously, opposite of meekness is wickedness:
A little while, and the wicked will be no more;
though you look for them, they will not be found.

But the meek will inherit the land
and enjoy great peace. (Psalm 37:10-11)
And still inevitably, this leads the Christian to hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 5:6). He has seen his sorry estate and now yearns desperately for a solution. He moans and regrets and hates it all and cries in great anguish for deliverance from his own evilness that prevents him from living in right relationship with God. He wants nothing more in his life than to walk in fellowship with Him. Already, the Psalmist characterised this deepest, most universal human need thus:
Some wandered in desert wastes,
finding no way to a city to dwell in;
hungry and thirsty,
their soul fainted within them.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He led them by a straight way
till they reached a city to dwell in.
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he satisfies the longing soul,
and the hungry soul he fills with good things. (Psalm 107:4-9)
As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.

My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God? (Psalm 42:1-2)
Benefits of Membership
And the most wonderful and delicious thing is that Jesus wasn't merely describing the poor, downcast, desperate, sobbing members of his kingdom, far better yet, he brought them the good news that all God had promised to people such as these would soon be fulfilled: those far too aware that their presence will befoul the kingdom of God would be welcomed into it (Matthew 5:3), those mourning over their diseased hearts would be comforted (Matthew 5:4), those who truly see themselves as they are so that nothing anyone can say about them can be too bad will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5), and those who yearn to be right with God again would have their thirst and hunger more than satisfied (Matthew 5:6)!

This was amazing news - unspeakable incomprehensible grace to the undeserved and mercy to the utterly hopeless and helpless. What a God this was: what a generous deliverer and saviour. But how could this be? How could perfection be sullied by imperfection? How could corrupt immoral incompetent imbeciles be put in charge of the world? Jesus did not explain how this would come to pass at that point. It would have been too much to comprehend. But we know now that the magnanimity and greatness of God did not end there. The king himself died so that all this could be fulfilled. Perhaps this too was inevitable given the awesomeness and complete goodness of God.

Enough to make the lame leap and dance for joy and the mute sing (cf Isaiah 35:6). Literally. There is no one like our God.

Unfortunately, in the here-and-now, physical tummy-wise, the burgers have been long digested. To be continued In šāʾ Allāh IFTLW...

PS. William Taylor explains this much better of course: The Good, The Bad... from the series, Revolution Not Resolution.

A Trundle Through Sermon on the Mount
Earth Moves Under Feet, Kingdom Comes (Matthew 5-7)
This is the Sound of Inevitability (Matthew 5:1-6)
Breeding - We Hazs It (Matthew 5:7-12)
Coffee, Salt and Light, and the Essence and Use of the Christian (Matthew 5:13-16)
And the Missing Link is Jesus (Matthew 5:17-20)
Perfect Laws for Perfect Relationships (Matthew 5:21-48)
Cakes for Kierkegaard and Sermon on the Mount as Existentialist Answer Perhaps (Matthew 6:1-18)


Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, D.A. Carson

Café Hacienda

Blk 13 Dempsey Road, #01-07
Tel: +65 6476 2922

The Handburger
Raffles City Shopping Centre, B1-77/78

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At October 08, 2009 12:33 pm , Anonymous Anonymous said...

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