Jesus’ vocation was to return the world to where it belonged, under God’s reign. He did not expect those who claimed to run the world to simply hand it over. He knew they would oppose him and his followers, just as they had killed the prophets before him. He knew this would be a life and death struggle, for himself and his followers.
The Beatitudes are revolutionary. They’re cameos of what happens when God turns the world back up the right way, overturning evil, restoring his reign. Release from oppression brings exuberant joy. Those who’ve missed out receive the kingdom. Those who’ve grieved receive comfort. The powerless receive the earth. Those who’ve yearned for justice are finally satisfied.
The heart of this joy is the untwisting of our humanity. All the injustice and power struggles and grief and poverty stem from abusing the power God gave us to rule his creation. We were designed to image his character by managing his world. Instead people have grasped his power and wielded it violently, destructively, oppressively. But all this evil is untwisted as God, in Jesus, brings us back under his reign.
So Jesus proclaims great joy on those who are genuinely human. Blessed are those who stop revolting, and reflect the image of our heavenly sovereign instead.
He gives us four cameos of what that looks like. It’s treating each other with mercy, so people see God’s mercy (5:7). It’s acting out of a pure heart, so people can see God rather than our image (5:8). It’s working for peace, so people see the family resemblance (5:9).
People understand what Jesus said in different ways, but there’s one foolproof explanation of his teaching we often miss: his life. Jesus’ words interpret his actions; Jesus’ actions interpret his words.
That’s how we understand people anyway. If you suggest something and your friend says, “Oh, sure!” you look at what they’re doing to see what they mean. If they grimace and roll their eyes you interpret it differently than if they nod enthusiastically. Sometimes what we do and what we say doesn’t add up, but that complication doesn’t arise with Jesus. Continue reading “The best way to understand Jesus”
When I was young, someone told me that Beatitudes were Be-attitudes — attitudes I should be. They’re not. Jesus did not say we should try to be poor, sad, or squashed with injustice. “Try to be persecuted” is patently absurd. No, the Beatitudes describe the people to whom the Father gives the kingdom.
John the Baptist was “the voice” announcing the arrival of God’s kingdom (3:1-3), introducing heaven’s anointed king (3:11-12). A voice from heaven confirmed his message: Jesus was indeed the chosen Son, the ruler heaven was pleased to appoint (3:17).
The anointed king had faced Israel’s enemy and driven him back: “Be gone, Satan: you have no authority here! Our Law honours YHWH our ruler. We serve no other” (4:10 paraphrased).
The king then withdrew to the northern reaches of his realm to live with the most oppressed, to bring light to the darkest place (4:12-16). There he announced the re-establishment of God’s kingdom, enacting the kingdom by releasing people from oppression by sickness and evil (4:22-25).
The king leads his followers to “a mountain” to give instruction on life in God’s kingdom. It was somewhere on the northern slopes of the Sea of Galilee, traditionally near Tabgha (Google maps). As you can see (photo above), it’s more of a hillock than a mountain. So why does Matthew call it a mountain? He’s thinking of something more than geography.
Does your pastor have a key theme you hear in most messages? Perhaps you hear how wonderful people are, an encouragement to be your best self. Perhaps you hear how depraved people are, and the importance of getting saved. Perhaps your church focuses on being kind and loving, or perhaps it calls you to act for justice. For some, exegeting the Bible is central, while for others church life is the focus. Most of us preachers and teachers have a core message.