Coram Deo – The Beatitudes

Echo High School has started a new conversation called Coram Deo. Coram Deo is a Latin phrase meaning something like “before God,” it refers to something that takes place in the presence of or before the face of God. To live Coram Deo is to live one’s entire life in the presence of God, under the authority of God, to the glory of God. It means to be aware of his presence and to know there is no higher goal than to offer honor and glory to God. It is the foundation of true religion. The Sermon on the Mount might be summed up with this phrase. Look at how it starts in Matthew 5:1-2. We read that he sat down to teach and we think of something informal, but this is exactly the opposite of what is intended. In the day of Jesus, a rabbi would sit down to teach formally. This means that what we have here is the cornerstone of the creed of Jesus. The Sermon on the Mount is one of the most important parts of the Bible. It is has been of huge historical significance, influencing the lives of people like Dietrich Bonheoffer, Martin Luther King Jr, and others. It lays down the ethical and spiritual foundation of the teaching of Jesus. We are going to explore the Sermon on the Mount over the next several weeks as we work out what it means to live “Coram Deo.”

Matthew 5:3-12 – The Beatitudes
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.
7 Blessed are the merciful,
for they will be shown mercy.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
9 Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

This is a very famous passage and it is often taught one statement at a time. That might be helpful, because many of these statements have lost their meaning because of historical distance, but we also need to understand that these were given as one address, and so we need to understand what they mean collectively. The big idea here is the inversion of what we would assume to be “blessed.” The beatitudes describe people with objective happiness, a happiness that is unmovable and unchangeable. They are worded in a shocking way, a way that begs the question: “Why would those with nothing be happy?” Why would the destitute, the heartbroken, the suffering be happy? The answer is that they have found Christ and the Kingdom of God, and that gives them true immovable unconditional happiness. So, the poor in spirit, for instance, have realized that things mean nothing and God means everything. Because of this, they have discovered a different kind of happiness. Jesus flipped the cultural norms on their head, redefining happiness. Where our happiness is something inextricably tied to our circumstances, Jesus talks about a happiness that is higher, one that is above these things. This happiness is a deep reality that is not affected by the circumstances around us. Our happiness is often tied to our emotional state. It is about what happens to us – what forces from “without” conspire to affect us – more than it is about something from “within.” This form of happiness is elusive and evasive, so we spend so much of our time and energy pursuing it; chasing it.

If they were spoken today, it might say something like “happy are the unemployed, for they have to depend on God.” Or “happy are those whose relationships are strained, for they will learn to forgive.” It is not saying that we should seek out those realities, that in our pursuit of happiness we should find a way to mourn, to become poor, or to get persecuted. It is saying that because happiness is deeper than any of these situations, we should be able to walk through them and remain happy. The blessings of the beatitudes are for a people ready for the kingdom’s coming. This passage shows what kingdom-ready people should be like; they are prerequisites for the kingdom as well as kingdom promises. Here a few big themes from the beatitudes:

First, Kingdom people do not try to force God’s whole will on a world unprepared for it. Many first-century Jews had begun to think that revolutionary violence was the only adequate response to the violence of oppression they experienced. Matthew’s first audience no doubt could recall the bankruptcy of this approach, which led to crushing defeat in the war of A.D. 66-73. But Jesus promised the kingdom not to those who try to force God’s hand in their time but to those who patiently and humbly wait for it – the meek, the poor in spirit, the merciful, the peacemakers. But this is not just about challenging the bloodshed of revolution. Today, this means there is NO room in Jesus’ picture of blessedness for proud, forceful, superior religion. What is being described here is something far sweeter than we often see parading around under Jesus’ name.

Second, God favors the humble, who trust in him rather than their own strength. Jesus promises the kingdom of God to the powerless, the oppressed, who embrace the poverty of their condition by trusting in God rather than favors from the powerful for their deliverance. This promise provides us both hope to work for justice and grace to endure the hard path of love. Such humble people yearn for God above all else. Mourners may refer to the repentant, those grieving over their sin and failure.

Finally, as the Beatitudes exalt the values of the Kingdom, they condemn the worldly counter-value. One of the things that must be considered here is that Jesus is challenging the cultural norms of his day. When he says that the poor in Spirit are blessed, he means to imply that the culture that values self-confident, competent, self-reliant people are not in alignment with the ways of God’s Kingdom. When he says that meek are blessed, he means to imply that the proud, powerful, important people that flaunt and take advantage of others are not blessed. When he says the persecuted are blessed, he means to imply that the popular, adaptable, uncontroversial people that play it safe and protect their comfort are not blessed. Understand what I mean here: I am not implying that we should just try to live like the beatitudes describe. You should not try to mourn, or to be poor, or to be persecuted. What I am saying is that Jesus has invited all of us into a life found only through faith in Him that is the source of true happiness. This happiness is the way of the Kingdom of God, and is deeper than any circumstances or emotion. He is saying there is a different way to live, and that way is His Way.

The characteristics Jesus lists as belonging to the people of the Kingdom are also those Jesus himself exemplifies as the leading servant of the kingdom. Jesus is meek and lowly in heart; he mourns over the unrepentant; he shows mercy; he is a peacemaker. This is the exact opposite picture of the wordy paradigms for religious celebrities. Let’s live Coram Deo, and show the world something more like the real Jesus as we try to Echo Him.

Food for thought:

-What do you think it means to live Coram Deo?
-How are the values that Jesus described in the Beatitudes counter-cultural?
-How have we exposed ourselves to misery in the way we allow our happiness to be dependent on our circumstances or emotions?

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