“Meh”ssiah? Is Jesus cool with your comfortable indifference?

Mehssiah-Title

Many people are casual fans of Jesus.  They aren’t comfortable with words like devotion, discipleship, adoration, or worship…those words sound extreme and fanatical.  Jesus is alright.  They assume that Jesus is just fine with their indifference, because well, He’s Jesus.  People like Jesus, because Jesus is quite likable.  Behind this casual appreciation for Jesus is often a picture of Jesus that is either lazy, uninformed, or both.  Sometimes this is the result of recreating Jesus in our own image.  We value our comfort above everything, so we want to imagine that Jesus will value our comfort over everything too.  We just ignore the things about Jesus that make us uncomfortable.  If we ignore them, maybe they will just go away? We want to be happy, so we create in our imaginations a Jesus that wants us to be happy above all.  We like to feel good, so we want Jesus to be concerned with our good feelings.  The trouble is, we won’t encounter our counterfeit Jesus in the pages of scripture.  This safe and sanitized version of Jesus just isn’t there.  No government would have ever bothered to crucify such an innocuous individual. The Jesus we meet in the Gospels was controversial.  He was a dissident.  Jesus was a revolutionary that taught dangerous and extreme ideas about God, life, and culture.  The Jesus we meet in the Gospels talked about God in such a way that He was labeled a blasphemer by the religious leaders.  He fought hard against injustice and challenged the leadership and culture of His day.  Jesus had a way of comforting the afflicted and unsettling the comfortable.  Each of us is faced when we truly look at Jesus with a polarizing choice: adoration or rejection.  It is very hard to stay safely and comfortably in the middle.  Jesus is not safe, but He is good.  Jesus is not tame, but He is beautiful.  Mark’s Gospel paints this picture well in the following narrative.

Mark 11:12-21 –

12 The next day as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. 13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. 14 Then he said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard him say it.

15 On reaching Jerusalem, Jesus entered the temple courts and began driving out those who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves, 16 and would not allow anyone to carry merchandise through the temple courts. 17 And as he taught them, he said, “Is it not written: ‘My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations’? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers.’”

18 The chief priests and the teachers of the law heard this and began looking for a way to kill him, for they feared him, because the whole crowd was amazed at his teaching.

19 When evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city.

20 In the morning, as they went along, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots. 21 Peter remembered and said to Jesus, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree you cursed has withered!”

22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. 23 “Truly I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them. 24 Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 25 And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive them, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”

A few things are pretty shocking about this passage. First, it seems out of character for the sugar and spice and everything nice version of Jesus to blast a poor innocent tree with holy wrath.  He is hungry, and wants some breakfast, but the tree doesn’t want to cooperate. It becomes worse when Mark’s Gospel implies that it is not the time for the tree to produce fruit. If something was wrong with the tree, it would be a little more bearable, but to curse a tree that isn’t even supposed to have fruit yet? That is just unreasonable.  I think the general idea is that the time to bear fruit is when Jesus comes looking for it, but I also think there is more to this passage.  I don’t think Jesus is really mad at the tree.  I think his anger is directed someplace else.  The way the narrative of the tree is interrupted by the events of Jesus’ visit to the temple give us a literary clue.  The fig tree forms a literary frame for the story of the temple.  What Jesus is really raging about is the fruitless and corrupt state of affairs he finds at the temple.  Jesus cannot abide the empty, self-focused, and exploitative religion he observed in the temple of Jerusalem.  This reminds me of Martin Luther’s visit to Rome.  People are looking for God, and instead of finding God they find a door closed in their faces and all kinds of hoops to jump through.  What if Jesus visited your church today? Would he hate our religious constructions? Would Jesus tear apart our temple remind us of the truth of the Kingdom of God?

Here is one thing I think Jesus would challenge: Any religion where comfort gets in the way of mission.

The issue with the fig tree is that it didn’t produce fruit when Jesus required it.  The faith of the Jews needed to be reformed.  It had become something that was focused inwardly, on the comfort and care of people that looked down on outsiders and relished in their privileged status. What is the fruit Jesus is looking for? I think there is a clue in a detail that Mark includes. Mark includes this phrase: My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” This would make much more sense if we were present when Jesus said it, but because we are not we need to understand something of the geography of the temple. It consists of several different courts. The outermost court was called the gentile court, followed by the women’s court, then Israel’s court, then the priests’ court, and finally the holy place and the most holy place. This action of selling livestock and changing money is happening in the Gentile Court. They were providing a legitimate service to pilgrims from all over the world that have come to sacrifice at the Temple. This is about convenience. It would be easy to exploit the poor pilgrims, and that makes Jesus angry, but there is something else going on here. Jesus’ rebuke includes the phrase “prayer for all nations.”  This is reminiscent of the call of Abraham, where he and his descendants were invited into a unique relationship with God, where they would be blessed by God to be a blessing to all the nations of the world. What is going on here illustrates how far Israel is from the heart of God and from their covenant. This court is the ONLY place a seeking Gentile could come and experience the presence of the God of Israel. Now, slowly, their sacred place of worship has become a market for the convenience of the “elite” and the “chosen.” The only place where a Gentile can come and pray and seek the one true God is now filled with the sounds of a shopping mall! This is the only place he is allowed to set foot, everything else is “off limits” to him. What they have done in the temple is to shut out any seeking Gentiles from the presence of God. They have become so focused on themselves; their own needs and convenience that they have forgotten their commission to reach the world for the one true God. Jesus is angry because those seeking God were being shut out from his presence.

I wish this didn’t happen in churches today, but the truth is that far too often the language and programming are built exclusively for the insider.  We make the tragic mistake of excluding outsiders for the sake of making things more comfortable and convenient for the insiders. We often program and message and operate in a fashion that is only accessible to those familiar with the church subculture.  I wonder what the Jesus of the Gospels would have to say about that.  Which of our tables would he overthrow? Would he rage against our men’s prayer breakfast, our “Christian” concerts, our merchandising, and our celebrity worship? Would Jesus find a space where skeptical, curious, and seeking outsiders could come to have questions answered and feel close to the God that they long to meet? Would Jesus find your church to be concerned with the outsiders or with the insiders? I think Jesus would unsettle the people safely hiding within the subculture we have created.  I think Jesus would rattle us a bit, reminding us about God’s concern for those far from Him.  God cares much more about you engaging your culture than about protecting your comfort. 

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Rooted in Love

Rooted-content-1Echo continued our conversation about strengthening the roots of our faith with a reality that Jesus identified as the center of Kingdom ethics – Love.  Strong, enduring, Christ-centered faith must be rooted in Love.  Jesus prayed that love would be the defining characteristic of His new community. Jesus taught that the root of all the commandments is love. Jesus helped us imagine a different sort of humanity, one where selfish and hateful attitudes are replaced with selfless love as we allow the life of Christ to grow within us. He talked about being connected to the Vine, the source of life. As we learn to abide in Him, we have life. Apart from the Vine we can do nothing. This kind of love has very little to do with our culture’s definition of the term.  What if our love was rooted not in our emotions or in our feelings, but in our connection to Jesus? Think about the beauty that would be built in our world if we loved like God loves. Look at what Paul prayed for the community of faith in Ephesus:

Ephesians 3:14-21 – “I pray that you, being rooted and firmly established in love, may have power, together will all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Paul prays that the Ephesians would receive specific knowledge – the knowledge of the Love of Christ.  Paul prays that through the Spirit the glorious riches of God’s power will strengthen God’s people in their “inner being.”  Don’t miss this.  This is not a shallow intellectual understanding, like you know this trivial fact or that. Paul prays for the Spirit of God to impart something wonderful deep in the hearts of His people.  This is phrase, the “inner being,” in the Greek language refers to the personal core of each individual.  It is the seat of the will, the center of belief, and the conscience.  Paul is praying that the Holy Spirit would impart truth so deep down in them it would change their instincts and impact the way they see everything.  We use the phrase “change of heart” to describe this kind of internal transformation.  This is about the core, our true selves, and our deepest held beliefs.  Think about the way that you know your name, your family relationships, or the loyalty of your best friend. This is the kind of knowledge Paul has in mind. It is about Jesus coming and dwelling in our hearts through faith.

This transformation, this impartation has us rooted and well founded in love (agape).  Paul’s prayer is that through the Spirit, these people would experience the love of Christ at the core of their being.  Paul is talking here about a power from within – that power comes from the knowing and experiencing the crazy-big Love of Christ! I invite you: get ROOTED in the LOVE of Christ. Let your roots grow down deep into the soil of His Love for you.

This love is inexhaustible.  I love the poetry of Paul’s dimensional description of Christ’s love. When Paul prays that they would understand how wide, long, high and deep the love of Christ is for them, he is inviting them to wonder at the expanse of Christ’s love.  It is wide enough to include every individual of every kind in every age in every world.  There was no limit to the length that Christ would go to reach us with His love, going even to the cross.  In depth, Christ descended to the humility and poverty of the human condition, accepting even death.  In its height, the love of Christ raises us higher than we could ever reach on our own, seating us in Heaven with our Father as His children and heirs.   No one is outside the love of Christ, no place is beyond its reach.  Every time we learn something new about the Love of God, there is yet more to learn.  It is inexhaustible.  We learn this truth, according to Paul, together with all the saints.  It binds us one to another in unity.   Here is something that we need to wrestle with: we enjoy the limitless love of God for us…but we do not always easily accept the limitless and sweeping love for other people.  We struggle with the idea of God making no distinction between “us” and “them.”  We like to think of ourselves as worthy of the love of God, while others maybe not so much.

This love surpasses understanding.  This is a huge point for you to consider.  We sometimes treat the love of God as a simple thing that we can easily understand.  The love of Jesus is the subject of simple nursery songs and slogans. I think teaching children the love of Jesus is a great idea, but I also want people to experience the power and depth and magnitude of God’s love. Paul is talking here about something so vast and expansive that we have yet to wrap our understanding around its measure.  Paul himself talks about struggling to grasp the mystery of God’s Love.  Paul is saying here that comprehending the love of God is a spiritual exercise that can keep them busy for the rest of their lives.  This is a little paradoxical, talking about “knowing what surpasses knowledge.”

This love is unconditional.  We spend so much time looking for affirmation on the outside.  We wonder if we are enough and we ask that question in every relationship and in every moment.  We endure nagging little voices, disgusting voices, lying voices, that tell us we are no good, that we do not matter, that we are not enough.  We are in constant search from the world around us for affirmation that we matter.  We ache in our emptiness, longing for approval and for affirmation.  Paul is describing something completely different here.  Paul describes affirmation and truth that come from within.  They come from the overflow of the love of Christ in our “inner being.”  Jesus fills our hearts with mind-blowing reality-defining truth-amplifying love.  One of the most powerful realities in scripture is the way that God loved us before we met any criteria or performed in some certain way or established the right conditions.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  While we were enemies of God in our minds, God reached for us.  There are no conditions that we need to meet to establish this love; God loves us because we are His.  I believe this – if you can get this truth down in your core, so much that tempts you and distracts you will be rendered powerless. You will find the kind of strength that David rested in when he wrote: “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil for you are with me.” You will enjoy the confidence of Paul that wrote: “If God is for me than who can be against me?” You will find the unshakable truth that we are more than conquerors and that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.

If you get the love of God into your soul, into your inner being, everything will change.  Everything else will fall into place. If you can get how much God loves you and cares for you and longs to be near you past your doubts, past your fears, past your rationalizations and into your core – if you know deep down in your DNA that God loves you and YOU ARE HIS, if the love of God sinks deep into your core, no lie can affect you.  No suggestion or insinuation can distract you.  No temptation can destroy you.  You will be rooted in the love of God.  Your identity will be secure; your confidence will be unassailable.  This is the core of rock solid faith.  God is FOR you.  God adores you.  The love of Jesus empowers and transforms you.  Love will change you.  Love will transform you.  Love will perfect you.  If you accept it.

Alethiea – Relational Truth

Aletheia-1

What is Truth? Confused and perplexed by the case of Jesus, Pontius Pilate ends his conversation with a great question: “What is Truth?” This question is still being asked today. Philosophers have debated it; religion has made claims about it; and it seems like cultural attitudes about truth are always shifting.  The word that Pilate uses is the Greek word Aletheia. It is a word with rich meaning. It does mean truth, but it carries the idea of sincerity, actuality, and reality. It refers to what actually is. Is there something called “truth” that is defined as “that which corresponds to reality,” and if so, what does it mean for you and I? Truth is hard to define, especially now in the postmodern world. Some people think truth is impossible to define or know. Jesus called himself “the Truth” and taught that his enemy was the “father of lies.” This is one of the most essential questions for each of us to settle, because what you believe determines how you behave. Echo HIgh School had a four week conversation exploring the concept of truth, especially the nature of the spiritual truth in the teaching of Jesus.  

John 14:15-27 – 

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be[a] in you. 18 I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 On that day you will realize that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 21 Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me. The one who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love them and show myself to them.”

22 Then Judas (not Judas Iscariot) said, “But, Lord, why do you intend to show yourself to us and not to the world?”

23 Jesus replied, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.

25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Of all the gospel writers, John explores the teaching of Jesus on truth most often and most elegantly.  Here, Jesus promises to his disciples that the Parakletos will be with them after he is gone.  He is an ally, an advocate.  He is literally “someone called in,” to help and to heal and to teach.  Jesus called Him (or it (pneuma), or her (ruach)) the “Spirit of Truth.”  He will guide us into truth, he will continue the process where God’s truth becomes known to humanity, something we call “revelation.”  This passage has some pretty cool implications: 

  1. Spiritual Truth can be questioned freely because it is durable.  Sometimes people treat “the truth” like it is made of glass.  It is very fragile, so you should handle it with care.  They limit their exposure to other points of view for this reason.  This attitude is what gives Thomas, the questioner in this passage a negative reputation. He has the nickname “doubting Thomas.” I think it is unfair, and more to the point I think it dangerous. Look at how he responded to the cryptic teaching of Jesus in John 14:1-17.  There is something remarkable about Thomas – he is not afraid to give a truthful answer: “I don’t understand.”  At this moment, Jesus is looking at a lot of confused faces. The other guys have no idea what Jesus is saying either, but they aren’t the type that will risk the question. They care far too much about what other people think. There was one among them who could never say that he understood what he did not understand, and that was Thomas. He expresses his doubt and his failure to understand, and the wonderful thing is the question of an honest man provokes one of the greatest sayings of Jesus ever. He has honest questions and is brave enough to ask them. Never be ashamed of having questions or admitting you do not understand something. God is not afraid of your questions, so Echo will always be a place that is open and honest about your questions. That means we are committed to giving honest answers even when they aren’t simple, and that no question is ever “out of bounds.” We are not afraid of doubt.  Doubt is often the invitation to explore an issue more honestly and to understand an issue more thoroughly.  Doubt often leads to deeper and more complete truth.
  1. Spiritual Truth should be held humbly because it is progressive.  This is a VERY important passage when it comes to understanding Jesus’ view of truth.  John 16:12-15 –12 “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. 13 But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. 14 He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you. 15 All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will receive from me what he will make known to you.”

    Truth is progressive. Jesus had more to reveal, revelation was not over.  There is more to learn about God, there is more to know about Christ.  This is often misunderstood and the cause of much trouble in faith.  Often, people think of Christianity as something that was established once finally and perfectly, and that the only task for the present is to look carefully at what Jesus did and said in the past and that should give us all we need going forward.  I am not sure this works.  Jesus did not give a perfect and complete revelation about God’s kingdom to the disciples.  He could not have.  Revelation is progressive, and a person can only be taught what they are able to understand.  God has always worked this way: he meets people within the limits of their understanding and sometimes within the shortcomings of their culture.  This means that the Christian faith (and theology) must be alive, it cannot be the static and wooden practice of studying the past saying of a long dead teacher.  It needs to be more than that.  It is not only concerned with what God said and what God revealed in the past, but it must also be concerned with what God is doing and what God is saying and revealing now and even tomorrow.  This is SO important for the way we practice our faith.  It is a mistake to think of faith only in terms of ancient patters and established “truth.”  Our faith needs to be alive; it needs to be able to grow.  Our world has fallen victim to the opposite: to a dead and lifeless religion that is solely concerned with the past and pays no attention to the pressing matters of the present and the future.  Jesus describes here the possibility of a faith that evolves and grows to face the challenges of new generations and the complications of the advancing human story.  How does this happen, since Jesus is no longer with us? The accounts of those that knew him are left behind, but they are done.  There are not going to be any new discoveries about Jesus unearthed in a cave somewhere.  Jesus gives us the answer: He is gone, but he did not leave his followers alone.  He gave his followers the Holy Spirit; the “Spirit of Truth.”  The word we use to talk about how the Spirit brings God’s truth to us is called “revelation.”  It is like the lights come on.  This is a glorious promise if you can understand it and grasp it! This should help us deal with passages from the Bible that trouble us or offend our conscience.  There are many times when the Bible seems archaic in its virtues and even inferior in its ethic compared to the modern world.  Please understand me, I think that scripture has much to teach our culture about morality and ethics and the heart of God.  I think it is the supreme revelation of God’s character and nature.  However, there are times where what God revealed to ancient people in the context of their ancient culture seems backwards and inferior compared to what we know today.  This is fine if you understand that God cannot take humanity from the start to the finish in one step.  God’s goal is to advance us as a culture one step closer to the ideal of His Kingdom, and sometimes a step in the right direction doesn’t seem like it is going far enough if you are already advanced past that position.  However, if you were the one on the other side it might truly be as far as your legs could reach.  God needs to get people moving in the right direction, even if it is not all the way down the road.  God is a patient teacher in this regard.  This also means that God is not done yet helping us step toward his ideal.  When we look into the ancient truth of scripture, sometimes we need to discern the direction God was having humanity move to know how to continue down the road, especially when applying the text woodenly as it is written will not do.  There is progress in terms of redemptive movement.  Revelation continues because Jesus is alive and His Spirit continues to work within us guiding us into His truth.

  1. Spiritual Truth can be known relationally because it is personal.  Here is the most important thing to understand when it comes to spiritual truth.  You do not relate to spiritual truth like science relates to a bar of iron: as a subject relates to an object.  Spiritual truth is not very “objective.”  It is subjective, because behind spiritual truth is a person.  We should not study God like we study things in a laboratory, reducing him to a list of attributes, axioms, facts, and figures.  We study God like we get to know a friend.  This is how scripture is to be read.  You are reading stories, songs, and personal letters.  You are not reading a book full of facts about God.  These stories, songs, letters and such invite us to experience God in a similar way that the authors of these works experienced God.  We should not read scripture or come to church like a detached physicist listening to a lecture, but like a castaway on deserted island with a letter from his beloved.  There is so much talk in defense of “absolute truth” from people making claims about God, but I wonder if they are not missing the point.  I understand their fear: they fear that with the loss of the concept of absolute truth comes moral relativism and a lack of spiritual conviction.  However, their argument might not be accomplishing their goal.  We have to remember that when we are dealing with Spiritual Truth, the ultimate truth is not an objective principle but a person.  This person is one of such splendor, power, wonder, beauty, and glory that to know Him is to love Him, worship Him, enjoy Him and seek to please Him with everything.  Jesus didn’t reveal to his disciples the nature of propositional truth; he invited them to learn that He is “the way, the truth, and the life.” Reducing such a person to a list of facts and attributes is missing the truth by a wide margin. You can only really know the truth about God by experiencing Him, the same way you can only really know music once you have heard it. Music, like God, is more than intellectual comprehension; it is also emotional understanding.

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?