Saturday, April 12, 2014

Calling His Disciples (part 12 of 12)

It is not at all surprising to find that Abrahamic insistence included almost directly and immediately following the call of Simon, Andrew, James, and John, with the additional information that James and John left their work and their father and followed Jesus.  Once again, mentioning a call by Jesus, who was being recognized and worshiped as the Creator God by the author of Matthew (who is constructing his historical narrative not necessarily as a chronological biography, but constructing his narrative in a certain way and for a certain purpose to communicate certain facts about the activity and nature of the God that is being more thoroughly revealed by Jesus) and adding the leaving of a father as a response to a summons, is sure to call Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant to mind. 

After a very brief interlude to round out his fourth chapter, in which Matthew describes Jesus’ ministry throughout Galilee, and concludes by insisting that “large crowds followed Him” (4:25a), the beginning of the fifth chapter reads: “When He saw the crowds, He went up the mountain.  After He sat down His disciples came to Him” (5:1).  While there is a temptation to notice the Moses motif that is also being obviously laid into the narrative (teaching from a mountain, mentioning the law and recounting some of the “ten commandments”), that is merely kept in mind while remembering the more foundational Abrahamic context.  Though there are large crowds following Him, the author, very specifically, says that “His disciples came to Him.”  Though there were most likely more than just the four called and named disciples at this point, making mention here of the group of disciples, having just presented the calling of the first four, must be completely purposeful. 

What does Jesus do?  “He began to teach them” (5:2).  What does He say?  He says “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.  Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied” (5:3-6).  With a call from Jesus, the leaving of a father, words that are presented as being directed to those called---which are the disciples (though obviously there is a much larger audience present), and now this talk of “Blessed are…”, it is nigh impossible to not hear echoes of the Creator God speaking to Abraham (after he had heard “Go out from your country, your relatives, and your father’s household to the land that I will show you”) and saying “Then I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you.”  Verses three through six clearly spell out the covenant God’s directing of blessing to the called ones of Jesus, with them being given a nation (kingdom of heaven), comfort, and an inheritance (here, one thinks about the promise of an heir to Abraham and that which would be possessed by his descendants). 

Of course, Jesus did not stop there.  He continued on to say, “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the children of God” (5:7-9).  Here, the indication is that the blessings are now bi-directional.  This sends the audience back to the Creator God’s words to Abraham, with which Abraham was told “I will make your name great, so that you will exemplify divine blessing.”  Certainly, we can see that these three uses of “Blessed are…” are outwardly directed, in that Jesus’ called ones are to demonstrate mercy and purity of heart, while being peacemakers.  By this they will exemplify divine blessing and be sources of divine blessing for the world, while also continuing to be blessed by their God (also an exemplification of divine blessing, which obviously works on two levels), in that they will receive mercy, see their God, and be called children of the Creator God. 

Jesus continues, saying “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them.  Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you and say all kinds of evil things about you falsely on account of Me.  Rejoice and be glad because of your reward is great in heaven, for they persecuted the prophets before you in the same way” (5:10-12).  Does not this strike a chord in similar fashion to what Abraham was also told, which was “I will bless those who bless you, but the one who treats you lightly I must curse”? 

Beyond that which can be seen in chapter twelve of Genesis, this talk of a great reward in heaven is a reminder of the fifteenth chapter of Genesis and where the Creator God speaks again to Abraham and says, “Fear not, Abram!  I am your shield and the one who will reward you in great abundance” (15:1b).  For sake of context, this follows the account of Lot being captured and Abraham defeating his captors to rescue Lot, after which he received the blessing from Melchizedek (persecution, blessing, and reward). 

Finally (for purposes of this study), Jesus says “You are the salt of the earth…  You are the light of the world… let your light shine before people, so that they can see your good deeds and give honor to your Father in heaven” (5:13a,14a,16).  What rounded out the Creator God’s first words to Abraham?  “All the families of the earth will bless one another by your name.”  Abraham was called to be salt and light in a way that would reveal his God’s glory and gather to Him the praises that He deserves---the abounding of blessing at the hand of that God being quite obvious as it flows out in all directions.  The disciples of Jesus were called to do and effect the same.  

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