Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Doctrine & Conduct (18) - The Beatitudes - 6

So far in my series on the sermon on the mount and the beatitudes, I've looked at how Jesus' statements beginning with "happy are ..." are an announcement of God's deliverance for the oppressed. Together with Luke 4:18-19 (quoting Isaiah 61), these two statements are a declaration that God's promised deliverance has commenced in the ministry of Jesus and that the Messianic Age has begun.

In this message I'd like to look at how each of the beatitudes end.

The first and last beatitudes conclude with the words "... for theirs is the Kingdom of heaven" (in the present tense) while the others conclude with statements in the future tense.
... they will be comforted
... they will inherit the earth
... they will be filled
... they will be shown mercy
... they will see God
... they will be called sons of God
I pointed out at the beginning of this series that the sermon on the mount follows immediately from Matthew's statement that "Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom" (Matt 4:23) and is in fact a summary of what Jesus taught about the kingdom. This is confirmed by the structure of the beatitudes, beginning and ending as they do with the words "for theirs is the kingdom of heaven".

While the full benefits of the Kingdom were to be experienced at some time future to when this sermon was given, the reality was that the Kingdom had already begun and that the poor in spirit, those who hungered for righteousness, the peacemakers, etc, were entering the kingdom there and then.

Jesus is saying that the Kingdom of God would come in stages. Like the prophets of Israel He taught about the Age to Come, and taught His disciples to pray "Your Kingdom come" (Matt 6:10). But He also taught that the power of this coming Kingdom was breaking in to the present age - "the kingdom of God has come upon you" (Matt 12:28).

The "now" kingdom reality is a "taste" of the "not yet" final consummation in the age to come. The citizens of the Age to Come are living now as the community of God. Jesus was calling His audience to be Kingdom-people, and to live Kingdom-dynamics. The writer to the Hebrews picks up the point and speaks of believers as "those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age" (Hebrews 6:4-6). We are to live not only in expectancy of the Age to Come, but can be empowered, enabled and energised by the powers of the coming age to live a Kingdom-life today.

When we look carefully at the future-tense endings of the beatitudes we see that we do not need to wait for the Age to Come to enjoy these blessings to varying degrees. For example, Jesus says the peacemakers "will be called the sons of God". Paul wrote "those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God" (Romans 8:14) and "you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26). John said: "to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12). Being the children of God is a relationship we can enjoy now by receiving Christ, trusting in God and being led by His Spirit. So too we can be comforted, be filled, and receive mercy in our present Christian lives. Inheriting the earth and seeing God are the two which we might expect have only a future application. I want to discuss "seeing God" in this post, and will look at inheriting the earth later.

Quite a few of Jesus' sayings and miracles were about "seeing". He talked about the blind leading the blind, about people who had eyes but couldn't see, and about the eye being the light of the body. In one notable miracle he healed a blind man in two stages so that he first could see hazily, then clearly. Some of these teachings are telling us that we see what we want to see. The religious leaders came face to face with the Son of God, the Messiah of Israel, yet they couldn't see Him for who He was. On the other hand people who were mad and demon-possessed recognised immediately who He was.

Jesus spoke in a similar way about listening. He said, for example, " My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me" (John 10:3-4, 27). Elihu in the book of Job answers Zophar's complaint (Job 11:5) "how I wish that God would speak" by saying "God does speak - now one way, now another - though man may not perceive it" (Job 33:14). He goes on to give several illustrations of how God speaks to us.

We can hear the voice of God, and we can see God. But sometimes God is speaking to us or appearing before our faces and we do not recognise Him. Paul wrote: For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. (2 Cor 4:6). Having said that God revealed Himself through Jesus, He goes on to say that Jesus is "revealed in our mortal body" (vv. 10-11). Sometimes God reveals Himself to us through mortal people, but we don't recognise Him because all we see is the "mortal body".

If we want to see God then we have to be "pure in heart" and look for God revealing Himself in other people. If we do not see God it may be because when we see other people we only see 'defiled', weak, human, sinful, mortal creatures and not the Creator in whose image and likeness they are made. But the pure in heart will see God - not only in the Age to Come, but in the here and now as He reveals Himself through His people.

I am reminded of Elisha's prayer: "O LORD, open his eyes so he may see." (2 Kings 6:17 see also v. 20).

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