Turn the other cheek

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Exodus 21:12-36; Matthew 5:38-48

When we were moving through Exodus we came across the Old Testament law: “an eye for an eye.”  It limited the kind of retribution the injured party could pursue.  The law says you may exact only as much as it cost you.  There is to be no escalation of violence according to the law of Moses.

But here in Matthew, Jesus ‘fills full’ the law of reciprocity.  He doesn’t just seek to limit the payback we seek.  He tells us to pay back in a completely different way.  To answer evil with good:

“Ye have heard that it hath been said, An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth:  But I say unto you, That ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also.”  (Matthew 5:38-39)

Here’s what Jesus is saying:

When you are struck…

  • don’t strike back, take the blow
  • don’t protect yourself, expose yourself
  • don’t lead with justice, lead with mercy
  • don’t retreat into safety, advance into danger
  • don’t retaliate with strength, retaliate with weakness
  • don’t shrink into self-pity, move out into self-giving
  • don’t insist on your rights, open yourself to wrong
  • don’t cower in defeat, hold fast in meekness
  • don’t stand on your dignity, stand on your shame
  • don’t harden into bitterness, soften into tenderness

.

  • be defiantly peaceable
  • be immovably vulnerable
  • be steadfastly gracious
  • be victoriously wounded
  • be like Jesus.

Who, when we lashed out at Him…

  • did not come in violence, nor remain in indifference
  • did not strike back, nor shrink back
  • did not retaliate, nor harden

.

He absorbed the blow

And He turned again to us.

He upheld His offer.

Arms outstretched, even to His killers.

Especially them

Only them

You, even.

.

There is strength in this weakness.

Strength to redeem the world.

.

It begins with surrender.

Laying down your arms.

Receiving His peace.

.

It continues with service.

Following His way.

Absorbing your own blows.

Today.  Every day.  Turning your cheek.

To this you are called.

.

To be lower than a door-mat.  Far lower.

A door-mat is passive

But you throw yourself under the feet of your enemies.

.

To be lower than a slave.  Far lower.

A slave walks his allotted mile grumbling in his heart.

You walk two miles with a glint in your eyes.

For you know the power of this weakness.

It reconciles the world.

Hell fire

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Matthew 5:21-48

To put it mildly, hell is a stark reality. But, considered rightly, it’s also one of the most liberating doctrines in the Bible.  To understand it can bring health to your soul.  But you might need some convincing about that…

We’ve already said that modern people seem far more fearful of “fire and brimstonepreaching than of “fire and brimstone” itself.  But the fires of which the Bible speaks are the flames of God’s jealous love.  The LORD who says “I am a Jealous God” burns with zeal for His people.  Those on the inside of this fierce, committed, marital bond experience it as the sunshine of His love.  Those on the outside experience it as a consuming judgement – hell fire.

But who is “hell fire” for?

One answer from Matthew’s Gospel is this: “the devil and his angels”.  In Matthew 25 Jesus tells the parable of the sheep and the goats.  He speaks of Himself as the Judge of the world who will finally and fearfully separate humanity into only two groups.  This is His final word to those condemned (the “goats”):

“Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.”  (Matthew 25:41)

Hell fire is for Satan and his servants.

In the popular imagination hell is full of devils with pitchforks prodding humans.  This is not Christ’s picture.  The devil and his angels are not the jailers of hell, they are chief among those punished.  Indeed, first and foremost, hell is the judgement reserved for these supernatural enemies of God.

In a very deep sense, hell fire is not for human beings.

Yet, soberingly, in another sense, hell fire is for all of us, and even in all of us.

The context of the phrase is the sermon on the mount.  Jesus proclaims the Good Life from the mountain, like Moses before Him.  Yet, unlike Moses, Jesus also proclaims Himself to be the Fulfiller and Accomplisher of the law.

So from Matthew 5, verses 21-48 He fills full the law of Moses, contrasting what was said in the Old Testament (ye have heard that it was said) with His own filled-out interpretation (but I say unto you).  Verses 21-22 fall within this whole “filling full” section:

“Ye have heard that it was said of them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment:  But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment:  and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council:  but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”  (Matthew 5:21-22)

Someone might have read “Thou shalt not murder” as a simple prohibition against homicide, but, says Jesus, it’s much deeper.  And so is our sin.  Similarly, (v27-28), you might understand “Thou shalt not commit adultery” as a command to stay out of other people’s bedrooms.  But it’s deeper than that, and so is our depravity.

Every lustful thought shows me to be tangled up in sin and Satan and heading for “the judgement.”  Every angry word convicts me that I deserve “hell fire”.  Not those wicked people over there – me!  To say to another human being “Idiot!” is truly damnable.  In fact it is the unleashing of the powers of damnation, as James would say:

“Even so the tongue is a little member, and boasteth great things. Behold, how great a matter a little fire kindleth!  And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity:  so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.” (James 3:5-6)

Hell fire is not simply a destination – there and then.  It is a power, here and now, the influence of which we all feel.  That should make us shudder.  Hell is a power that we often wield – even we who belong to Jesus!   And it’s a power that grips the whole world.

The judgement of the wicked will not be the consignment of sinners into the hands of some foreign power.  It will be a case of leaving sinners in the hands of their life-long master.  Hell fire is not just there and then, it’s also here and now.

So when our anger or lust or any sin condemns us, we should feel it very keenly.  It is sulphurous evil that belongs to the deepest pit.  We haven’t merely made a mistake or committed some religious faux pas.  We have proven a natural bent to evil whose end is utter destruction.  Given this understanding of the seriousness of sin, we must give up the pretence of piety and confess that it’s hell we deserve and hell which bubbles out of us.

When we do this, we begin to know the health-giving power of the doctrine of hell.  It shows us our smallness and our complete inability to save ourselves.  We can’t insulate ourselves from hell fire – the problem is within.  Such a realization ought to make us despair of ourselves and our own religious powers. And it ought to drive us to Christ.

It’s then that we realise: Jesus not only filled full the law, He also accomplished it.  He practiced the kingdom-life that He preached – a life of peace and purity.  A life that brings my hellish sin into sharp relief.

And then on the cross He became sin for us (2 Corinthians 5:21).  This means He became the world’s most heinous murderer… and sex offender and… insert the name of your sins here.

Christ fought fire with fire – and it’s the only power to save hell-bent sinners.

The doctrine of hell powerfully takes the focus off me.  I cannot quench the consuming fire.  When I face my sin properly I realise that my life does not douse the flames – it’s fuel.  Hell is so much bigger than me.  But then, Christ is bigger still!

When I stop trusting myself and cry out in helplessness, then ‘hell fire’ has done its work.  When I see the hell He bore on the cross, that’s when I understand His work.  At that point, ‘hell fire’ has liberated me. I’m freed from a focus on self and brought to see the magnitude of my Saviour.

 

Every jot and tittle

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Galatians 3:26-4:7; Matthew 5:17-20

We might say “He dotted every i and crossed every t”.  A Hebrew speaker would say “He swished every jot and swirled every tittle.”

“Jot” was the smallest Hebrew letter (the letter yod).  “Tittle” was the smallest stroke of a pen – a tiny flourish that was the only distinguishing mark between the two most similar Hebrew letters.  And Jesus says, when it comes to the law, He is an absolute stickler for every word, every letter, every speck of Moses.

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets:  I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.  For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.”  (Matthew 5:17-18)

Notice that Jesus does not say that He is a law keeper.  No, He is much more than that.  He is the law-fulfiller.  He doesn’t merely abide by it.  He fills it full.  What does that mean?

Well, imagine that we go to the pub.  We stand at the bar and you hand me a pint glass.  That could mean one of two things depending on whether or not the glass was full.  If you hand me an empty glass then I know you’re making a demand, it must be my round.  I have to pay to fill up your glass.

But if you hand me a full glass, then that’s a gift for me to enjoy.  With a full glass I take it within myself and enjoy its benefits.

It’s the same with the law.  Jesus has not come not to abolish the law. Through baptism and temptation Jesus has stepped into our shoes to repent and believe at our Head.  He has come as the true Israel to live the life of faith and obedience in our place and on our behalf.  He does the very opposite of abolishing the law.  He submits Himself to it in every way and He hammers out in His flesh a perfect legal obedience.  Here is the Lord of Moses coming under the law of Moses and doing it right – filling it full.

This is vital to understand.  Because Jesus is about to preach His interpretation of the law and it is pure, concentrated legal perfection (Matthew 5:17-48).  What are we meant to do when Jesus turns up the heat on the old standards?  He says, Don’t just refrain from homicide – never hate.  He says, Don’t just refrain from adultery – never lust.  He says, Be perfect just as our Heavenly Father is perfect.

Do we try to be sticklers for this law?  Fastidious keepers of “every jot and tittle”?  Well, Jesus is calling us to more than this, not less.  Jesus is handing us law.  But it is law that is brim-full with His finished work.  His peace and purity and perfection fills up and fills out every demand.

If it came from Moses’ hand it could only condemn us.  If we take it as our demand, it will only kill us.  But it comes from the hand of Jesus who has filled the law full with His own spotless life and death.

Now we receive it from Jesus as the gift of righteous living to be received by faith.  Here is the righteousness that fills we thirsty souls (Matthew 5:6).  He fills every demand and overflows to us in grace.

As the Apostle Paul says:

“But when the fulness of the time was come, God sent forth his Son, made of a woman, made under the law, To redeem them that were under the law, that we might receive the adoption of sons.  And because ye are sons, God hath sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father.  Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ.”  (Galatians 4:4-7)

Hiding your light under a bushel

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Isaiah 42:1-8; Matthew 5:14-16

Jesus used comedy.  A lot.  Jewish comedy.  Naturally.

The juxtaposition of contrasting images was central to Jesus’ communication.  He would often show up the absurdity of our lives by placing two incongruous states side by side.  The resulting shock is the stuff of comedy, and of good preaching!

Here’s today’s comic imagery:

“Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.  Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.”  (Matthew 5:14-15)

Imagine the scene:

“Hello?  Lantern Magic?  I’d like to register a complaint.  I just bought your LampLight 3000 with high hopes.  It says on the box “It giveth light unto all in the house.”  But I have to say it’s as gloomy as ever in here… What’s that?  Yes I filled it with oil… and I trimmed the wick… and I lit it just like the instructions say…  Yes well, truth be told, it started out brilliantly.  It was everything I’d hoped for.  Until I put it under my bushel…  My bushel…  No it’s Old English, it means bucket. Yes bucket… Well I couldn’t find a lamp stand so I thought I’d improvise…  What’s that?  On top of the bucket?  My goodness, no.  How reckless!  Dear me, I wouldn’t dream of placing it so precariously.  No, no I’m keeping it safe underneath…  Yes underneath the bucket…  What do you mean it’s not the lamp that’s dim?”

Well however ridiculous we find this situation, Jesus says this is the problem with Christians.  Which means, if you follow Jesus, it’s your problem and mine.  We are made to shine.  We are the light of the world. We ought to be luminous – our very lives driving out darkness and drawing people to the Father.  Here’s how Jesus paints the positive picture of what we’re made for:

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.”         (Matthew 5:16)

Jesus beat Take That to the punch by about 2000 years: here’s His advice “Let it shine!”  Don’t “Stoke the fires”.  Don’t “Try and burn a bit brighter.”  Don’t “Lighten up.”  Just Let it shine. When we’re released from the bushels under which we usually hide, the Christian has a radiant quality which will attract the world.  It’s not about getting “on fire for Jesus.” We are light in Jesus.

Therefore what questions would Jesus ask us as a church seeking to reach out to a dark world?  Surely questions like:

Why do you keep yourself to yourself?

Do you realise the light that you are?

Are you afraid of drawing attention to yourself?

Do you realise what’s possible when your light is allowed to shine? (Matthew 5:16)

What are the safe places and times in which you hide from others (your bushels)?

How as a church do you keep the light of your fellowship from the watching world?

As the complaints department from Lantern Magic would have said: The problem is not with the lamp, the problem is where you’re putting it.

Ye are the light of the world

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John 8:12; Matthew 5:14-16

How can Jesus call us the light of the world?

If you ask a typical non-Christian how they think of the church, “Light of the world” is unlikely to feature in their response.  Surely Christians are inconsequential, impotent – dim.  Or perhaps they are compromised by hypocrisy – murky.  Or maybe the church is an irredeemably dark institution.

How can Jesus call us the light of the world?  Certainly not because of any natural brilliance.

No, Christians are the light of the world simply because Christ is.

Just think of the ways the believer is united to Jesus.

He is our Head, we are His body.

He is our Bridegroom, we are His bride.

He is the Vine, we are the branches.

These descriptions speak of mutual interplay.  But there are other descriptions in which we become just what Christ is, because we are bone of His bones and flesh of His flesh (Genesis 2:23)

He is the Son, we are sons.

He is the Firstborn, we’re the church of the firstborn (Heb 12:23)

He is the Chosen One, we are chosen ones.

He is the Anointed One, we are anointed ones.  (2 Cor 1:21)

He is the Righteous One, we are righteous ones. (2 Cor 5:21)

He is Abraham’s Seed, we are Abraham’s seed (Gal 3:16, 29)

But perhaps nowhere is the identity more glaring than here.  Jesus is the Light of the world (John 8:12), yet He says to His followers:

Ye are the light of the world.  (Matthew 5:14)

Corporately and by grace we are what Christ is individually and by nature. He shines as the outgoing brilliance of the Father’s love.  We shine as the outgoing radiance of Christ’s.  And a dark world is lit up.

What does it mean to be the light of the world?

Apparently the world has no light of its own.  The true Light that enlightens everyone is Christ (John 1:9).  The church is His reflected light into the world.  Christ is like the sun, we are the moon.  But the world has no source of light itself.  By nature it is a dark place.  Whatever light it enjoys is the reflected glory of Christ and His people.

As Christians living in the midst of the world, we can sometimes feel the surrounding darkness very keenly.  There is a kind of power to darkness, a dreadful and stifling energy.  And we might feel intimidated by the darkness.  But we should know this:  Light and darkness are not equal opposites.  Darkness is not a thing – it’s the lack of a thing.  Light drives out darkness, darkness cannot drive out light.  Where light is, the darkness must flee.  The light will always win, in the end.

The only need is for the church to be itself.  Today let’s remember that we are this light.  Tomorrow we’ll see how we’re meant to shine.

Salt of the earth

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Colossians 4:2-6; Matthew 5:13

If we call someone “the salt of the earth” we usually mean they’re real, honest, straight-talking, uncomplicated and dependable.  Jesus had something else in mind.  Although figuring out what exactly is not easy. Jesus begins the sermon on the mount with the beatitudes in which He proclaims the present-tense blessedness of His disciples.  These are the adjectives attached to the Christ-follower: meek, merciful, peace-making, etc.  In Matthew 5:13-14, Jesus goes on to proclaim the nouns: the salt of the earth, the light of the world, a city on a hill. Notice that we haven’t yet come to any verbs, let alone imperatives. Jesus first tells us who we are.  And the first noun is in verse 13:

“Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.”

What does it mean? Well the context speaks of distinct-ness.  Unsalty salt is the most useless thing you can imagine.  Unsalty salt is like dust – worthless.  And taken together with the “light” and the “city” images Jesus is saying that a salty Christian stands out.  Christians are different. Notice, again, Jesus doesn’t say Christians really ought to be different.  It’s not that we should try to stand out.  We are different.  We simply are the salt of the earth. But in what way are we different? Well a popular approach is to say that salt was used as a preservative in ancient times.  Therefore Christians are to “preserve” the earth by being distinctively Christian.  John Stott spoke of Christ’s followers having a positive impact on society and then memorably said “Don’t blame the meat for going off, blame the salt.” It’s a powerful thought.  Christians do have a positive social impact and when the world “goes bad” we should look within to see our own culpability.  But I’m not sure Jesus is talking about “preserving” here. In the Old Testament, the main connotation associated with salt is “judgement.”  Lot’s wife was “assalted” so to speak (Genesis 19:26); the sacrifices were sprinkled with salt (e.g. Ezek 43:24); places of judgement were places of salt (e.g. 2 Samuel 8:13; Ezek 47:9ff); the new creation will be a place where fresh water triumphs over salt (Isaiah 11:9; Revelation 21:1).  And in the New Testament, Paul makes this intriguing comment:

“Let your speech be alway with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.”  (Colossians 4:6)

To answer “every man” requires “grace” on the one hand, “salt” on the other.  Again, it seems like the bite of salt is a bite of judgement. So what does it mean that Christians are the salt of the earth?  Well on the one hand we are “light”, on the other we are “salt”.  On the one hand we shine into this world the light of Christ (more tomorrow).  On the other, we judge the earth with the judgement of Christ.  Our message is not simply that Christ is the Rock.  We also say, “And all else is sinking sand.” The Christian is salty.  The Christian has bite.  But it’s worth asking ourselves today – have we lost our saltiness? May we never flinch back from offering true judgement in the name of Christ, for we are the salt of the earth.

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake for theirs is the kingdom of heaven

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1 Peter 4:12-19; Matthew 5:10-12

The beatitudes describe the life of the King and therefore the life of the kingdom.  They begin and end by speaking of those to whom the kingdom “belongs”– the poor in spirit (v3) and the persecuted (v10).  And in between there seems to be a progression.  We might imagine a story going something like this:

I realise my true spiritual exile from the living God.  I see Jesus come to join me in my godforsaken predicament, but He seems to be doing life differently.  He brings the life of heaven to earth, establishing a new kind of kingdom.

By comparison, I know myself to be poor in spirit, but Jesus says “Come on in.” (v3)

I mourn over this death-bound world and my death-bound spiritual state, but Jesus says “I’ve got the answer.” (v4)

I give up on my own strength and abilities and Jesus says “That’s the Spirit.”  (v5)

I realise my desperate lack of righteousness and Jesus says “Here, have mine.” (v6)

Won by His mercy I start to offer it to others. (v7)

Cleansed by His priestly work, I start seeing things right.  (v8)

Reconciled by His great atonement, I begin witnessing to His peacemaking.  (v9)

And that’s when the persecution starts! (v10)

“Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness’ sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:10)

Citizens of Christ’s kingdom don’t have to go looking for trouble.  Life in Christ simply will run against the grain of this world – in painful ways.

We have already noted that “righteousness” is parallel to Jesus in the beatitudes (see v11).  Living for Jesus will mean trouble in this world. Because Jesus was trouble for this world.  And so, as Paul said:

“Unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake.”  (Philippians 1:29)

So often we suffer and conclude that we’ve done wrong.  Such thinking reveals our default assumptions.  We imagine that “right living” is about taking the path of least resistance and avoiding all confrontation.  When persecution comes, we immediately question what we’ve done wrong. Jesus says, Don’t be ridiculous!  Right living means persecution.  And such persecution is blessed.  It is kingdom living.  It is, as Paul would go on to say, “the fellowship of his sufferings” (Philippians 3:10).

So if we face trouble for the name of Christ – and we will if we belong to Him – then let Peter’s words challenge and comfort us:

“Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you:  But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy.  If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you.”        (1 Peter 4:12-14)

Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God

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2 Corinthians 5:11-21; Matthew 5:9

To be the child of a great ruler is an incredible privilege.  Others can grab precious minutes with your father if they are very important.  But you, without any of their qualifications, belong at the very heart of power. Others will call him King or President, you will call him Daddy.  And, if it’s a hereditary monarchy, you not only have intimacy and privilege, you have incredible status and power.

Well the Apostle John writes this:

“Behold, what manner of love the Father hath bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God.”  (1 John 3:1)

Our Father is the Emperor of the universe!  The Emperor of the Universe is our Father!  How can this be?

Well we’ve already seen this truth:  What Jesus is uniquely and originally, His people become in Him. He is the Light of the world, and therefore so are His people (John 8:12; Matthew 5:14).  He is the Son of God, and His people are drawn into Himself.  Now we share His own relationship with the One He calls Father.  In Jesus we are God’s children.

And children are peacemakers.  This holds true particularly in more traditional cultures.  In family disputes, the eldest son especially would be the mediator.  He would go out and broker a peace between warring factions.

Therefore what does this beatitude tell us about Jesus?  And what does it tell us about ourselves?

Well Jesus as the Son of God is, at heart, the Peacemaker.  As Paul says:

“For it pleased the Father that in Jesus should all fulness dwell; And, having made peace through the blood of his cross, by him to reconcile all things unto himself; ….”  (Colossians 1:19-20)

Who else could save the world and reconcile it to the Father?  Only the Son!  It’s the job of the children to be peacemakers because it’s the glory of the Son to make peace with God.

What about us?  How are we meant to be “peacemakers”?

Well this verse might have limited application to “Truth and Reconciliation” commissions and armistice treaties.  But remember, Jesus did not broker a peace-deal between Jerusalem and Rome!  That was not His mission.  He makes peace with God.  And we – adopted by Him into His kind of life – make that kind of peace.  Just as those who have been shown mercy show mercy, so those who have been reconciled go out to reconcile.

Are you a child of God?  Then your role in life is peacemaker. Just listen to the position, the privileges and the purposes of God’s children in the world:

“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature:  old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.  And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation.  Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.  For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.”  (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God

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Psalm 24; Matthew 5:8

– I see through you.

– My eyes are open.

– I long to see the world.

If a person has experienced their fair share of impurity we might say they’ve “seen it all.”  On the other hand, we call the naive person “blinkered”:  “Those innocents – bless ‘em – they’re blind to real life.”  We imagine that the person with a chequered past is someone who sees.  Their eyes are wide-open, we think.

Jesus thinks differently.  He says that the innocents are the ones who really see.  It’s purity that gives you true perception.

“Blessed are the pure in heart:  for they shall see God.”  (Matthew 5:8)

Let’s ask some questions about this beatitude.

What does it mean to have a pure heart?

In the Bible, the word for pure is most often translated as “clean”.  And in the great majority of cases it refers to the priestly verdict of “clean.”  While certain animals, actions and people are pronounced “Unclean! Unclean!”, others are pronounced clean.  And so Leviticus makes many judgements on the status of our externals – calling them clean or unclean. But just as the external act of circumcision testified to an internal circumcision of the heart, so the priestly verdict of “clean” testifies to the internal reality of a clean heart.

Who has a clean heart?

Well Solomon asks that question:

“Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?”  (Proverbs 20:9)

He assumes that the answer is:  no-one.  No-one can lay claim to a pure heart.

Psalm 24 also puts “pure heart” into a category beyond us:

“Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place?  He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.”  (Psalm 24:3-5)

To be at the heart of heaven one must have a heavenly heart.  A pure heart is the qualification for man to ascend to the Most Holy Place – to receive the Father’s blessings and righteousness.

Notice that Psalm 24 teaches this crucial link between purity and perception.  Purity gets you proximity to God and therefore true perception.  But who has a pure heart?

Only Christ.  He is the divine King of Glory who ascends the hill of the LORD (Psalm 24:7-10).  He is the Great High Priest who goes from earth to heaven.  Only He is clean on the inside.  Therefore Jesus alone gets to see the Father.

And yet here in the sermon on the mount, Jesus speaks to His followers who are poor in spirit, mournful, meek, etc, etc.  And yet – like the true High Priest that He is – He declares them clean of heart.  And suddenly we get to share in His unique status and privileges.  Just as the true Light of the world declares us to be the light of the world (John 8:12; Matthew 5:14), so the true Pure of heart declares us to be pure of heart.

And just as Jesus has seen God (John 6:46), so will His disciples.  His priestly verdict brings us in to the communion He shares with His Father. One day we will see God, and even now we know and experience fellowship with the Father in the name of His pure-hearted Son.

We await the fullness of this promise.  We await the time when our hearts will be in fact what Christ pronounces them by grace.  We await the visio dei – the vision of God – which Jesus here guarantees.

What should we do while we await the fulfilment?

Let’s be amazed at Christ’s priestly declaration.  He hasn’t just cleansed a leper out there.  He has pronounced me clean, in the depths of my being.  I know that much darkness still pours forth from my heart (Mark 7: 20-23).  But I must remind myself of the heavenly voice that spoke to Peter:

“What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common.”  (Acts 10:15)

And as I seek to live out my cleansed status in the world, I must remember that the link between purity and perception still holds.  To the degree that I see the glory of God in the face of Christ, I will enjoy the purity of heart which Jesus has secured for me.

All the while, I cry out with David for my Father to recreate in me what Christ has declared for me:

Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.  Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me.  Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit.” (Psalm 51:10-12)

Blessed are the merciful for they shall obtain mercy

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Deuteronomy 10:14-22; Matthew 5:7

We all know the sayings:

– Credit where none is due.

– Don’t get mad, get reconciled.

– God helps those who are helpless themselves.

– Every lunch is a free lunch.

– It’s a dog help dog world.

– Survival of the feeblest…

Alright I made those ones up.

But if they sound ridiculous, they’re only as “ridiculous” as Christ’s beatitudes in which all our assumptions about earning, deserving, paying and paying back are turned on their heads.  In Christ’s Kingdom mercy and not merit is the currency.

According to Jesus there is a future coming in which His followers own the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:3), are comforted by God Himself (v4), are filled with righteousness (v5), see God (v7) and are called His children (v9).  And on what basis do they receive such blessings?  Verse 6: Mercy!  Sheer unmerited kindness from the overflowing heart of our Heavenly Father.

How should kingdom people respond?  Well, won by mercy, we become merciful.  Does our human mercy earn divine mercy?  Not at all – or else mercy is not mercy.

Instead divine mercy wins human mercy.  The forgiven forgive.  The graced become gracious.

In Christ’s Kingdom it’s not money that makes the world go round.  It’s mercy.

How does this blessing bless you?  How will it bless others through you?