Monday, June 23, 2014

Seeing God (part 1)

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. – Matthew 5:8  (NET)

The fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters of Matthew, commonly referred to as “The Sermon On the Mount,” begin with a programmatic declaration.  Jesus, in Moses-like fashion, has taken up a position on a mountain in order to deliver news of the Creator God’s will to the people and begins with a set of statements prefaced by “Blessed are”.  By using the term “blessed” while standing on the mountain to speak to the people, Jesus has not only conjured up thoughts of Moses, but He successfully pulls Abraham into His context as well, as the Creator God was specifically going to bless Abraham and his descendants---and through them all the world would also be blessed (Genesis 12:2-3). 

Beginning with “Blessed are,” and with what follows during the course of this particular “sermon,” Jesus offers up a new set of “laws,” if you will, to govern the way in which His covenant people will interact in and for the world that His God is redeeming through Him.  If one thinks of Jesus as offering up a new set of governing principles, such will be a helpful lens through which to view His statement of “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have not come to abolish these things but to fulfill them” (5:17).  Of course, Jesus also immediately goes on to say “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth pass away not the smallest letter or stroke of a letter will pass from the law until everything takes place” (5:18). 

By speaking of “these things” (5:17) along with saying “heaven and earth pass away” (5:18), Matthew lays the groundwork for the other important and extended discourse from Jesus to be found in his Gospel, which is Jesus’ speech concerning the Temple.  There, in chapters twenty-four through twenty-six of Matthew, Jesus makes repeated use of “these things” (24:2,3,8,33,34,26:1) as well as “Heaven and earth will pass away” (24:35), with the two statements linked and quite clearly connected with the fall of the Temple (“heaven and earth” was a common way of referring to the Temple---the place where heaven and earth meet).  One cannot disconnect Jesus words from chapter five with His words from chapter twenty-four.  Doing so would probably be a mistake. 

Jesus goes on to say “So anyone who breaks one of the least of these commands and teaches others to do so will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever obeys them and teaches others to do so will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (5:19).  One must be cognizant of the fact that He is talking about that which He has said here with His initial delivery of the “laws” upon which He is about to elaborate.  In that sense then, one could even be justified in looking at the “beatitudes” as something of a new set of “Ten Commandments,” though there are not ten, and though they aren’t really commandments in the traditional sense.  The reader is also put in the position of seeing the beatitudes as the outline of the sermon, with all that follows serving as the explanation of those beatitudes. 

As is known, Jesus begins by saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to them” (5:3).  Beginning in this manner fits perfectly with what is heard from Matthew prior to this.  First, Matthew introduces John the Baptist and his message, which is “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (3:2).  Then, the first report that is received about that message that comes from Jesus, as He insists on the need to “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (4:17b).  Matthew follows this up by informing his audience that “Jesus went throughout all of Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the Gospel of the kingdom” (4:23a).  So Jesus beginning the message in which He outlines His vision of the kingdom of heaven with a mention of the kingdom of heaven makes perfect sense.  He is quite consistent in this regard. 

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