Monday, April 14, 2014

Christ Fulfills the Law-Part 3

5) Blessed (Happy) are the merciful because they will receive mercy.

We have already learned how mercy is the response that flows from the humility of one poor in spirit.  But we just saw how mercy also requires sacrifice on our part.  This should illustrate for us how we cannot draw hard and fast lines between the first four beatitudes nuanced as they tend to be in humility and these last four nuanced by sacrifice.  Humility and sacrifice are inextricably tied together--hence my spinning purple sphere illustration.

The best way to illustrate the sacrifice of mercy is forgiveness.  We all each and every day need to forgive someone or be forgiven; forgiveness is almost as much a part of living as breathing.  We all must forgive because God has forgiven us. To refuse to forgive others often is pure arrogance on our part because, despite what we might say to the contrary, when we don’t forgive others we really believe God was obligated to forgive us.

The other necessary component of forgiveness is the sacrificial part that is mercy.  One doesn’t really forgive anybody without also being merciful towards them.  And such mercy means one will have to give up something or many things, whether it be his time, his inconvenience, his reputation, his property, his money, his right to be right, and his right to be vindicated.

People often tell me I must forgive him or her but I don’t have to forget.  This is the world’s wisdom, not God’s.  It is not letting go of oneself to God, but seeking one’s own benefit.  It isn’t being poor in spirit, or mourning with Christ, or being meek, or hungering after righteousness.  It is, in fact, selfish-ambition and conceit and not the servant’s heart of humility and sacrifice bound together in love.  If we stand in Christ we will forgive regardless of the cost to us, because God forgives us the same way.

Relationships can only be restored if there is forgiveness, but repentance is also needed.  I must forgive someone who has wronged me without demanding any form of recompense, even their admission of guilt and apology. (I understand this is a hard teaching.  You must understand that what Christ has called us to is all difficult because it is contrary to the world’s wisdom that has been hard wired into us because of the fall.) We forgive others with no strings attached; otherwise, we haven’t really forgiven them.  But the relationship will only be restored if the other person repents.  You cannot have a holy relationship with someone who fails to admit his or her transgression.  This is true in even simple scenarios.  For example, one would be foolish to give an employee access to the till after she pilfered it without remorse.  You forgive by giving her another duty if possible, but you don’t trust her with the money until she comes to believe she was wrong to steal.  On the other hand, if she repents, then you give her her original job back, because such mercy leads to a restored relationship.

If we are not merciful in the way I’ve described, we will never receive mercy.  The reason is simple.  We won’t receive mercy because if we are unwilling to be merciful, we don’t really believe we need it, or we believe we were somehow owed it.  Here we clearly see how if we are not humble (poor in spirit) we also will not sacrifice.  There is a more sinister reason for being unmerciful; and that is in our heart of hearts we don’t really believe God has forgiven us, or anybody, for that matter.

6) Blessed (Happy) are those who are pure in heart because they will see God.
John tells us in his first epistle,

See how great a love the Father has given to you, so that we are called children of God, and so we are.  For this reason, the world does not know us, because it does not know Him. Beloved, we are now children of God, and it was not yet revealed what we will be.  We know whenever it appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.  And everyone who has this hope in him or her purifies him or herself, just as He is pure. (I John 3:1-3)

We learn from this the ultimate end of Christ’s work in us is purity—holiness.  We cannot stand in the kingdom of God without being holy, because God is holy.
John also teaches us we must be purifying ourselves.  And as we said at the beginning of this lesson we do this by remembering who we are in Christ by doing what His spirit instructs us to do through the grace of wisdom, strength, and forgiveness the spirit provides.  All of which is to say faith is active not passive.

Faith that makes us holy is also sacrificial, just as Paul teaches us,

Therefore I exhort you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a sacrifice – alive, holy, and pleasing to God – which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this present world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may test and approve what is the will of God – what is good and well-pleasing and perfect. (Rom. 12:1-2)[NET]

The sacrifice begins with a willingness on our part to change how we think.  One of the most crucial ways we do this is laying out our motives before God.  It is easy—I mean effortless and slick—for us to think we are doing something good for others, when in reality we are only doing it out of selfish-ambition.  If our motives are wrong, we are not pure—regardless of what we might be doing.  Paul also tells us if our thinking isn’t right (faulty motives) we will not hear God’s will.  Furthermore, I cannot love God, which is my acceptable worship, unless I am a living sacrifice.  I cannot love God if I still love myself more than God and therefore others.

It takes sacrifice on our part to become holy.  This sacrifice begins and ends in loving God with all our heart, mind, soul, and strength and loving our neighbor as our self.  We should see in this that all we have been talking about as the tension of mercy and justice is driven by and towards ultimate fulfillment in the perfect tension of love and holiness that defines the eternal state of God’s kingdom, because it is the nature of Christ.  This tension of love and holiness is in fact the law fulfilled in Christ, which is why I spent so much time at the beginning of this lesson discussing it (Part 1). Putting it another way, because we stand in Christ’s kingdom today and at the same time we also live in the fallen world, our nature in Christ is the perfect tension of love and holiness that we practice in the fallen world as the perfect tension of mercy and justice.  And in so doing, we make ourselves pure.

We can summarize this beatitude with a reading from the book of Hebrews:

Pursue peace with everyone, and holiness, for without it no one will see the Lord. (Heb. 12:14) [NET]

Crisp and clean and no caffeine!

7) Blessed (Happy) are the peacemakers for they will be called the sons of God.

We have spent mucho time on this subject in previous lessons.  Suffice it to say our Lord Jesus the Christ, the son of God, always pursued peace all the way to the cross and then beyond.  Of course, Jesus does, because His kingdom is perfect peace—perfect Shalom—because, contrary to popular belief, peace means perfect justice, which is perfect holiness bound up in perfect love.  And all of this is the righteousness that comes from God.  If we claim to be followers of Christ, then we will be peacemakers and therefore sons of God.  And as we have discussed previously, such peacemaking demands sacrifice, even--dare I say it?--sacrifice unto death.

8) Blessed (Happy) are those who have been persecuted on account of righteousness because the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

If we stand in the kingdom of God, which means we are Christ followers with all that entails, we will be persecuted.  The perfect tense, “have been persecuted,” means we will be persecuted and that persecution will leave its marks on us.  When we stand before God He will see those marks and know we have been standing in Christ all along (I am speaking in human terms; of course, God knows whether or not we stand in Christ).  The point is if we stand in Christ we will sacrifice ourselves to persecution.

Jesus then expands upon this last beatitude:

You are blessed (Happy) people whenever liars revile you and persecute you and speak every evil against you on account of Me.  Rejoice and be full of joy because your reward is great in the heavens; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who came before you. (Matt. 5:11,12)

Firstly, Jesus is telling us something about what happiness really is.  The world thinks it is having everything going the way we want so we are perpetually on an emotional high—all smiles and giggles.  If that is so, why is it so many famous people who got it all by the world’s standards are so broken in their relationships and have to medicate themselves?  No, happiness is a state of mind; it is an inner peace that comes with finally knowing oneself because we love Christ. Dr. Ratzinger, in response to those who say the beatitudes are really only sour grapes, explains beautifully what I mean:

 “In a word, the true morality of Christianity is love. And love does admittedly run counter to self-seeking—it is an exodus out of oneself, and yet this is preciously the way in which Man comes to himself.[1]

Secondly, because true happiness is standing in Christ, we are indeed happy when we are persecuted for righteousness sake.  This does not mean we can expect to be happy if we were persecuted because of our own sake.  If you are persecuted because of your sin, you certainly cannot rejoice in that; no, in that case it is time to repent.

Thirdly, Jesus locates Himself as to what He means by “for righteousness sake”; He teaches us the latter is synonymous with “for My sake”.

Fourthly, Jesus said our reward is great in the heavens, not that heaven is our reward.  The beatitudes are not prescriptions for how to get to heaven, but descriptions of one who is standing in God’s kingdom today.  The beatitudes describe the nature of the heart of one standing in Christ in terms of that person’s present status in the kingdom (e.g., I am poor in spirit, so I am in the kingdom).  Our status in God’s kingdom doesn’t change, but there will be bonuses, as it were, when God consummates His kingdom in the future[2].


The eight beatitudes begin with our status being the kingdom of God and end with the same status.  The first beatitude strongly emphasizes humility; the last beatitude strongly emphasizes sacrifice.  To be in Christ is to have through Him His nature of humility and sacrifice motivated by love.  Jesus describes His nature we have in Him as the beatitudes.  Because Jesus came as a servant, these beatitudes define a servant’s heart.  I have vividly pictured this servant’s heart as like a spinning, purple orb generated conceptually as a coin bearing sacrifice on one side and humility on the other that has been spun and is kept spinning by love.  I also defined Christ’s nature theologically as walking in the perfect tension of love and holiness.  All that these are and all that result from them—justice, holy relationships, peace, the fulfilled Law, and so on—is collectively the kingdom of God centered in Christ; it is, in fact, the righteousness that comes from God. Indeed, Christ fulfills the Law.

[1] J. Ratzinger, “Jesus of Nazareth: Baptism to the Transfiguration” Image Press, New York (2007): p. 99.
[2] B. Witherington, “Matthew” Smyth and Helwys, Macon, GA, (2006): p. 123.