Monday, April 7, 2014

Christ Fulfills the Law-Part 2

Unlike Moses who only gave us the Law, Jesus came to be the Law for us and this because in Christ we can know the Father[1].  Christ has perfectly fulfilled the Law so that in Him we too can fulfill the law and this through holy love.  John explains this nicely for us in his first epistle:

Beloved, I am not writing a new command to you, but the old commandment which you were having from the beginning; the old commandment is the word that you heard. Again, I am writing a new commandment to you, that is true in Jesus and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the genuine light is already shining. The one who claims to be in the light and hates his brother is still in the darkness.  The one who loves his brother remains in the light and no reason to sin is in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and is walking in the darkness and does not see where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes. (I John 2:7-11)

Therefore, Jesus is not burdening us with a new set of commandments, but freeing us to fully apprehend the old commandments.  He frees us first by dying on the cross and being raised to eternal life in order to put to death sin and death (what John means by darkness) that had for us irrevocably broken our relationship with God, so that we can once again stand with God in the relationship He created us for, by standing in the risen Christ who is king, Lord, and Master—that is, by standing in the kingdom of God.  And by so standing in Christ—a restored relationship with God--we are free to fulfill the law through love and establish, sustain, flourish, and forever enjoy righteous relationships with each other.  We are freed this way because Jesus enlivens His holy love within us through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

Standing in Christ, which as I said is tantamount to standing in the kingdom of God, we are truly happy (blessed).  And this happiness (blessing) prevails within us by faith in Christ to make it real to us by doing what His spirit tells us through the grace of wisdom, strength, and forgiveness His spirit provides.  Putting it another way, we are truly happy when we take on the nature of Christ by faith.  And this nature is the perfect fusion of humility and sacrifice motivated by love.  In short, it is the beatitudes.

I’m fond of describing the kingdom nature, or servant’s heart, as a coin on which one side is painted red and the other side is painted blue[2].  The colors symbolize sacrifice and humility, respectively.  Now imagine taking this coin and spinning it.  See how it becomes a purple sphere.  Yes, there it is; it is the heart of Christ and therefore the heart of His servant-- one who follows Christ—one who truly dwells with God in God’s kingdom—one who lives in Christ by faith—one who is a Christian.  But what is the force the starts the coin spinning and then keeps it spinning?  The force is love.  The nature we have in Christ is the perfect melding of humility and sacrifice motivated by love.

Jesus describes eight beatitudes in the gospel according to Matthew.  There are other beatitudes in the scriptures, of course, but these concisely convey the servant’s heart.  If you look carefully you can see how the first four are nuanced toward humility, and the last four towards sacrifice.  We don’t want to draw solid lines of division here, because one can easily discover many transpositions.  But I find the nuances help us to appreciate fully how these beatitudes describe the heart of Christ, and therefore the heart of his disciples.  We can loosely split the eight beatitudes in the following way:

Humility: Be Poor in Spirit, Be One Who Mourns, Be Meek, and Be Hungry and Thirsty for Righteousness.

Sacrifice: Be Merciful, Be Pure in Heart, Be a Peacemaker, and Be Patient in Persecution 

Let’s take each beatitude one by one.

1)  Blessed (happy) are the poor in spirit because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

To be poor in Spirit is to be humble in the purest sense.  It is a complete and unqualified realization of our helplessness:

Certainly you do not want a sacrifice, or else I would offer it;
you do not desire a burnt sacrifice.
The sacrifices God desires are a humble spirit –
O God, a humble and repentant heart you will not reject. (Ps 51:16-17) [NET]

To be poor in Spirit is a complete and ongoing repudiation of our misplaced trust that constituted our rebellion.  This is why there is no incompatibility between Luke’s statement of this beatitude in a material sense[3] and Matthew’s in the spiritual sense.  The issue is trust; it is the lesson we learned from the encounter between the rich man and Jesus.  To walk in God’s kingdom we give up any hope of finding security in the human heart or its institutions.  We must surrender ourselves totally to Christ; there is no blessing (no happiness) outside of this poverty of spirit.  If we are to enter the kingdom of God, we must trust God with a childlike trust:

And Jesus said, “Truly I say to you. Unless you turn around and become like children, you will absolutely not enter into the kingdom of Heaven!” (Matt. 18:3)

This holistic trust is, of course, faith that is the perfect, unbroken triangle of belief, trust, and obedience. In the first volume of his three volume series on Jesus of Nazareth, Dr. Ratzinger captures the essence of people living by such faith:

These are people who know that their poverty also has an interior dimension; they are lovers who simply want to let God bestow His gifts upon them and thereby live in harmony with God’s nature and word.[4]

To be poor in spirit is humility, but this humility is not the kind mustered up in order to get what we want by invoking pity in someone. Neither is this humility a means some people use to exalt themselves over others, such as the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable:

Two men ascended into the Temple in order to pray, one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.  The Pharisee standing prayed about himself these things: ‘God, I thank you because I am not even as the rest of the people, swindlers, evil doers, adulterers, or even as this tax collector; I fast twice a week; I tithe a tenth of everything I possess.” (Luke 18:10-12)

To be humble as one poor in the spirit is to be stripped of all pretense of self-sufficiency.  It is the recognition of one’s own powerlessness and lifelessness.  To be poor in spirit is to expose the lie that one is or ever could be a god unto oneself.  To be poor in spirit is to finally grasp in the depth of humility one’s certain need of God’s salvation. Indeed such humility wakes you up to the reality of you tumbling end over end in a freefall into a bottomless abyss, where the ever increasing speed of your descent blurs the features of the living passing beyond your reach.  To be poor in spirit is the humility of the tax collector:

The tax collector standing far away (from the Pharisee), did not want to raise his eyes toward heaven, but beat his chest saying, “God, forgive me the sinner!” (Luke 18:13)

To be poor in spirit is Jesus telling Satan, “Man does not live by bread alone, but by the word of God!” And “You will worship the Lord your God and will serve only Him!”

To be poor in spirit is Jesus washing His disciples’ feet.  It is Jesus alone with the flames of the second death looming ever nearer, praying to the Father, “Not my will, but your will be done.”
To be poor in spirit is Jesus,

Who being in the form of God, did not consider equality with God the thing to be grasped. But He emptied Himself by taking the form of a servant, becoming in the likeness of humankind, and after being found as a man in appearance, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient until death, even death on the cross. (Phil. 2:6-8)

To be poor in spirit is the humility of being the last of all and the servant of all.  Yes, to be poor in the Spirit is to be the greatest in the kingdom of God.

2) Blessed (Happy) are those who mourn because they will be comforted.

Mourning in the Greek is in the present or continuous form.  This means it should be always present in our minds.  I don’t mean we must always walk around hidden beneath hooded cloaks, reciting lamentations.  No, to be in a constant state of mourning is the humility of knowing the present world is not the way it should be—it is not the right order of things—because of the rebellion of humankind against God.  When someone asked G.K. Chesterton what he thought was biggest cause of all the troubles in the world, he replied, “I am.”

When Jesus arrived to raise Lazarus from the dead he was met by Martha and Mary in separate occasions and mildly rebuked for not having come sooner to save Lazarus.  It is informative at this point to note that Jesus did not get angry at them for their impertinence, even though He knew he was about to bring Lazarus back to life and had tarried for good reason.  God always wants us to be honest with Him—to come to Him as we are.

What we also learn from this story is Jesus saw how everyone was mourning at the death of Lazarus, even now after four days in the grave.  And even though Jesus knew everything would be alright, the Bible tells us He wept.  Why?  Because Jesus mourned with a humility that said none of this should be.  Death was not what God intended for His image-bearers.  The torment of loss and the anxiety of fear that so grips our world are the sole result of our rebellion. Unless we grasp this as a deep humility by rehearsing its truth every day, we will become complacent.  Unless we mourn in this way, we will soon forget our own and sole culpability in the fall of God’s creation, and return to trusting in ourselves and our human institutions.  And in so doing, we will trivialize the corruption and violence in the world; we will come to accept death as a useful tool, and even a happy end; when in reality death is the source of all evil in this world, because it separates us from God.

When we embrace mourning in this way, we can be truly comforted, because the humility it engenders turns us back to God for our life.  A good example of this for us is Peter after he denied knowing Jesus three times.   St. Paul teaches us,

For sadness as intended by God produces a repentance that leads to salvation, leaving no regret, but worldly sadness brings about death. (II Cor. 7:10) [NET]

The mourning the fallen world knows is grief without hope.  It is mourning that either leads to suicide, as it did for Judas Iscariot, or virtual suicide, where people kill themselves in vain pursuits and dissipation.  Otherwise, it leads to contempt that slowly kills both the mourner and those around him or her.

But if we mourn from a depth of humility, we will turn back to God for comfort that, as John Chrysostum observed, goes beyond just forgiveness but is an abundant consolation[5].

3)  Blessed (Happy) are the meek for they will inherit the earth.

Dr. Ratzinger explains that the Greek word praus means meek or gentle, and is a translation in the OT of the Hebrew word, anawim, which refers to God’s poor; we see a connection, then, between the first Beatitude and this, the third[6].  A meek person in the sense Jesus is meaning here is the poster child of humility; he or she is a living example of what means to be poor in spirit.

Meekness and gentleness does not mean cowardly or spineless.  Meekness takes great courage because a meek person seeks to restore justice with the weapons of God’s kingdom, which are mercy, forgiveness, and sacrifice, and not the weapons of the world.   James said,

Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct he should show his works done in the gentleness that wisdom brings. (James 3:13) [NET]

And such wisdom seems futile to a world that believes power only resides in the sword.  Well, of course God’s wisdom would seem this way, because the world is not poor in spirit, and it mourns with hopeless despair.  The world subsists on its arrogance.  But the meek in Christ are living abundantly in humility.

A meek person knows who he or she is in Christ.  Christ is perfect meekness.  He announced the arrival of His kingdom riding on a donkey, not with political rancor or with the din of war drums and the rattle of armor and swords. He willingly ushered in His kingdom by being nailed to a cross--bleeding, beaten, cursed and spat upon--even though there was no sin in Him.  Christ cared deeply for God’s creation and lost humanity and He went about saving it through the only means it could be saved: through the mercy of God’s wisdom that is love, forgiveness, and sacrifice.  So that at the height of the world’s contempt and cocky self-vindication, Jesus still prayed from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they do.”  We who claim to be followers of Christ can be no less meek, because a servant is not greater than his/her master; and a student is not greater than his/her teacher.

Jesus tells us that it is the meek who shall inherit the earth. The meek stand in the God’s wisdom; they act to bring His justice through the gentle methods of His wisdom; they seek God’s justice instead of their own, and endure the harsh rebuke—even death--from the world that has a vested interest to remain in its darkness.  The meek in its sincere and deep humility knows that the quick fix and seemly expedient measures proffered by the world are nothing more than a thinly veiled conceit and selfish-ambition.  The meek person trusts in the Lord even when it seems to be ineffective.  And the Lord says it is such meek people who will inherit the earth because they are walking now in sync with the world God created to be, not the rogue world born out of rebellion.  It is for the meek as the Psalmist says,

Trust in the Lord and do what is right!
Settle in the land and maintain your integrity!
Then you will take delight in the Lord,
and he will answer your prayers.
Commit your future to the Lord!
Trust in him, and he will act on your behalf.
He will vindicate you in broad daylight,
and publicly defend your just cause.
Wait patiently for the Lord!
Wait confidently for him!
Do not fret over the apparent success of a sinner,
a man who carries out wicked schemes!
Do not be angry and frustrated!
Do not fret! That only leads to trouble!
Wicked men15 will be wiped out,
but those who rely on the Lord are the ones who will possess the land.
Evil men will soon disappear;
you will stare at the spot where they once were, but they will be gone.
But the oppressed will possess the land
and enjoy great prosperity. (Ps 37:3-11) [NET]

The fact the Lord promises we shall inherit the earth, means God is interested in restoring all creation, not just His image-bearers.  Our salvation is not only a private one, but a necessary part of God’s whole redemptive plan.  The humility of the meek recognizes it is not about me but God reconciling the world to Himself, to be the place where He dwells with His image-bearers in perfect justice, bound together in love. And this kingdom is the seamless union of the physical and spiritual realms.

4) Blessed (Happy) are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness because they will be satisfied.

First of all, the Greek words for hungering and thirsting are in present or continuous forms, so Jesus means we must always be hungering and thirsting after righteousness without ceasing.

Righteousness was the term in the OT referring to fidelity to Torah—that is, to observe the right path shown by God (i.e., the 10 Words).  I have already spent a lot of time at the beginning of this lesson explaining how only in Christ is this righteousness fulfilled (See Part 1).  We hunger and thirst for righteousness by faith in Christ.

It is a mistake to think of righteousness as only a right standing with God, even though it is that.  We first must have a right standing with God, because only in that restored relationship can all the rest of what righteousness is can be fulfilled.

Therefore hungering and thirsting after righteousness is for each of us individually to stand totally in Christ.  But because the kingdom is about restored relationships, each of us is seeking that others would find their way to stand in Christ. This means we must model for them this righteousness we have in Christ in all our relationships.  Therefore to hunger and thirst after righteousness is to seek Christ to transform us so that we love with a holy love that leads to justice.  This requires a deep humility on our part because none of this righteousness is due to anything we have done, but the outcome of what God is doing through Christ; so we must not treat the world as if this isn’t true; to do so is not humility, but a spiritualized arrogance and therefore unrighteous.  To hunger and thirst after righteousness is also, then, to seek the restoration of others in Christ by extending to them the same mercy Christ has extended to us—to love others as Christ has loved us.

As we have learned together, mercy is love acting in justice and for justice. We extend mercy to the lost by lifting them out of the unjust state they find themselves.  And when they see this justice in love they begin to understand their own sinfulness.  An excellent example of this is the work the Wheaton Bible Church has been doing in West Chicago.  There are there apartment complexes of Latin immigrants, and because of their impoverished condition  there was a rise in gang activity and a steep dropout rate among the children.  People from Wheaton Church forsook their own middle/upper middle class lifestyles and moved into these apartments and ministered to the tenants there by tutoring children, providing job and marriage counseling and medical services.  The result has been the children are going back to school, gang violence has declined, and two services for the Latins have formed at Wheaton Bible Church to accommodate the influx of new believers.  Those Christians at Wheaton hungered and thirsted after righteousness by bringing justice (moving the wrong order to right order) by extending mercy to the lost, with the result relationships are being restored along with the fallout of justice—just as Jesus promised would happen when we continually hunger and thirst after righteousness: we will be satisfied.

I would like to add one more thing before moving on.  We should also see from the Wheaton example how John Chrysostom was right in his perspective on this beatitude.  He said that hungering and thirsting for righteousness is turning away from coveting wealth, property, and the accumulation of worldly prosperity[7].  Jesus will validate this later in the Sermon on the Mount:

 “But seek first the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things [the things we need] will be added unto you.” (Matt. 6:33)

My point is the main reason we don’t extend mercy to the fallen world, and perhaps devise whole theologies to justify our inaction, is because deep down we are unwillingly to part with the possessions and wealth we believe to be our security and comfort.  This misplaced trust is unrighteous; so our unwillingness to be merciful to those who don’t deserve our mercy is not to hunger and to thirst after righteousness.

[1] I believe this is what John means to communicate in the climax of the prolog of his gospel account: Moses brought us the skeleton (the Law), but Jesus made it alive by fitting it with the flesh of grace and truth because only in Him is the Father revealed to us (John 1:17,18).
[2] B. J. Kokko, "A Final Word on LOVE" Kindle e-Book (2011): p. 108.
[3] Luke 6:20 reads, Blessed are the poor because yours is the kingdom of God.
[4] J. Ratzinger, “Jesus of Nazareth: Baptism to the Transfiguration” Image Press, New York (2007): p. 76.
[5] Chrysostom, Homily XV (Matt. V. 1-16), 4.
[6] J. Ratzinger, “Jesus of Nazareth: Baptism to the Transfiguration” Image Press, New York (2007): p. 80.
[7] Chrysostom, Homily XV (Matt. V. 1-16), 6.