Tuesday, December 31, 2019

R.J. Rushdoony on Reading Scripture

At the beginning of a new year, many people set out with a new plan to read the Bible. This is a good practice, since Scripture was given not only for the conversion of the unbeliever, but also for the continual discipleship of the believer. Christians should be ready, though, to be personally challenged by the Bible. Reading is important, but how we read is also important. We must read it as the word of God, with faith and submission, ready to obey it. In "The Use of Scriptures in the Reformed Faith," R.J. Rushdoony helpfully comments on how we should prepare to receive Scripture when we read or hear it.
"The offense of Scripture to the unregenerate is that it tells him that he is not a god but a sinner under the judgement of God. To the regenerate, the Bible is the good news of his salvation, but, to the extent that he is unsanctified, to that extent the offense of Scripture remains. This side of heaven, therefore, the believer must contend with an unwillingness in himself to read and to submit to God's Word. Behind this fact of offense is our reluctance to keep on growing; we tend to be satisfied with a few drops of faith in the ocean of our sin. We are unwilling to change, to see our faults, to forgive as we have been forgiven, to hate only what God hates, and to love as we have been loved. Hence the necessity of Scripture: we need the open and sure Word of God as a corrective, a guide, and as commandment." (R.J. Rushdoony, Faith and Action: The Collected Articles of R.J. Rushdoony, p. 1160)

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Guarding Against Falsehood in the New Year

"You shall not spread a false report.” (Exodus 23:1)

Perhaps for the new year, we can commit to not sharing false, misleading, and fake news? Perhaps we can be proactive in this regard by fact-checking memes, quotes, and stories before sharing them, rather than depending on others to do that work for us?

It is usually not difficult to get more information with the resources available online. Usually a brief internet search is all that is needed. And if you don’t have time to verify what you share on social media or in conversation, perhaps you should share less? And if you share something that is possibly true but not verified and without a source, then perhaps you can at least include a disclaimer to that effect?

We and the news articles we share will continue to be fallible, but by proactively guarding against false reports, you will contribute to the well being of society and do good to “your neighbor, who dwells trustingly beside you” (Prov. 3:29). Preserving truth and honesty is a shared project. We are in this together. It both requires you to be discerning with the reports you read and hear, as well as discerning with the reports you share. It not only forbids slander rooted in malicious intent, but it also forbids negligence in the effort to guard against falsehood and preserve the good name of others.

This year will be an election year, and if it is like the last one, it is sure to bring with it misinformation, falsehood, half-truths, misleading claims, and fake stories designed to provoke outrage. And this is in addition to the regular temptation to spread a false report. So be on your guard, love your neighbor, and take responsibility for your communications, remembering the ninth commandment, "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Ex. 20:16).

"Q. 77. What is required in the ninth commandment?
"A. The ninth commandment requireth the maintaining and promoting of truth between man and man, and of our own and our neighbor's good name, especially in witness bearing."
(Westminster Shorter Catechism)

Monday, December 23, 2019

Christmas and the Covenant

When we consider the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas time, it is natural to wonder what it means and what practical significance it has for our lives. Preachers all over the world seek to answer this question as people gather in the hope to discover some deeper meaning behind their traditions and celebrations. And indeed, the incarnation of the Son of God gives preachers plenty of material - many things can be said about this pivotal event. Today I want to make the point that to fully understand and properly respond to the birth of Jesus, you must understand how this birth is connected with God's covenant with his people.

The prophetic song of Zechariah the priest in Luke 1:67-79 places the birth of Jesus in this covenantal context. While the occasion for the song is the birth of his son John, the song (like John) is primarily focused on the coming of the Lord. And Zechariah states that the incarnation of the Lord is an expression of "the mercy promised to our fathers" and "his holy covenant" (Luke 1:72).

What is this covenant? Zechariah says that in this covenant, made with Abraham and his offspring, God promised "to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days" (Luke 1:73-75). This is a summery of the covenant promises God gave to Abraham in Genesis 12, 15, 17, and 22.

God continued to renew this covenant with Abraham's descendants, with Isaac (Gen. 26:2-5) and Jacob/Israel (Gen. 28:13-15). Most dramatically, God renewed this covenant with the children of Israel in the days of Moses. In those days, according to his covenant promise, God delivered Israel from the hand of their enemies (i.e. Pharaoh) so that they  serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all their days (Exod. 4:22-23, 6:2-8, Deut. 7:7-11). This covenant was formally renewed with the children of Israel at Mount Sinai (20:1-17) and again in the promised land under Joshua at the beginning and end of the conquest (Joshua 8:30-35, 24:1-28).

After Israel had settled down in the promised land, God continued to renew his covenant with them and made it clear that a greater fulfillment of this covenant would be brought about through the king of Israel, specifically, through King David and his heirs (2 Sam. 7, Ps. 72, 89, Is. 9:1-7). It would be through the line of David that would arise the promised one who would deliver God's people from their enemies and lead them in righteousness and peace, bringing all the nations under his blessed reign.

A thousand years after King David, God had not forgotten his covenant, nor had his promised mercy come to an end. In order to keep his holy covenant and to practice his promised mercy, God took on human nature and was born as the promised heir of David. Just as God had visited his people in Egypt and delivered them from bondage (Gen. 50:24, Ex. 3:7-8, 16-17), so now God "visited and redeemed his people" (Luke 1:68). Just as God had delivered Israel from Egypt because of his covenant promise to their fathers, so now he delivered his people through the birth of Jesus for the same reason (Luke 1:72). God acted in the incarnation because of his oath to Abraham (Luke 1:73). And God had fulfilled this oath by raising up "a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David" (Luke 1:69), that is, a Davidic king who would powerfully save his people. This king would deliver them by giving them the forgiveness of their sins and by guiding their feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:77-79).

This means that Jesus was born to confirm the covenant, to fulfill God's oath "to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days" (Luke 1:73-75). The birth of Jesus was the first act of the final battle against the ancient foe. Jesus came as an atonement for his people's sins so that he might transfer them from the domain of the evil one into the kingdom of God (Heb. 2:14-15, Col. 1:13). As John Milton wrote of Christ's nativity,
    "And then at last our bliss
    Full and perfect is,
But now begins; for from this happy day
    The old dragon under ground
    In straiter limits bound,
    Not half so far casts his usurped sway,
And wrath to see his kingdom fail,
Swinges the scaly horror of his folded tail."
What does this mean for our part? How should we respond? My point is that if Jesus was born to confirm God's covenant, then we should respond by embracing this covenant and living accordingly. Jesus sets believers free from the dominion of sin and Satan, enabling them to keep covenant and grow in holiness. The proper response to the Christmas story is, through faith in Christ, to cast aside our fearful bondage to the fallen world, our sinful passions, and the devil, and to serve God in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.

God sent redemption to earth to bring people into covenant with him. Jesus was born to free all those who trust in him that they might walk in his ways in fellowship with him. Do not be as the generation who experienced the exodus but perished in the wilderness because they broke the covenant by rebelling against the Lord. Do not despise the work of the incarnation and turn back to bondage and death. Remember the works of the Lord, trust in his mercy and faithfulness, and follow the Lord as his loyal servants. Forsake the darkness, and walk in his light, for he will guide our feet into the way of peace.

Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Beatitudes: Persecuted Disciples

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:10-12)

What does this persecution look like? This is not any persecution, but persecution for righteousness’s sake and for Jesus’ account. Mere persecution is not a sign that you are righteous. For persecution to be a sign of blessedness, it must be provoked by your righteousness or your connection to Jesus. Christians should not be like the soccer players who fake injuries to get the other side in trouble. You should pursue righteousness and faithfulness to Jesus, not victimhood. Leave it to others to provide the persecution - do not seek it as a goal.

What does suffering for righteousness’ or Jesus’ sake look like? It is the suffering you receive because you refused to join others in doing evil or to give them your approval. It is the suffering you receive because you stood up for what is righteous by defending the rights of God and man. It is the suffering you receive because you shared the gospel. It is the suffering you received because you persisted in confessing and serving your Lord, or simply because you are known as a Christian.

Persecution tests the quality of your righteousness and your faith in Jesus. If your righteousness and faith is merely done to gain the favor of man, then it will fade away when persecution arises. If your righteousness and faith is the true and heartfelt repentance described in these beatitudes that looks in hope to the promises of God, then it will remain steadfast amid trials.

This persecution can be expressed in variety of ways: you may be insulted, ridiculed, or slandered (“revile you … utter all kinds of evil against you falsely”); you may be rejected, disliked, or discriminated against; you may be hurt, punished, jailed, or even killed.

Why are those who are persecuted in this way blessed? They are blessed because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. This brings us back to the first beatitude, which includes the same blessing. The kingdom of heaven is the summary of all the other blessings. The disciples of Jesus have entered the kingdom of heaven and begun to enjoy its blessings. And Jesus goes on: rejoice and be glad! This is a matter of joy! Why? Because your reward is in heaven. This means that it is (1) from God, (2) eternal, (3) beyond this mortal life, and (4) incorruptible.

Furthermore, you shall prove to be true heirs of the saints of old. This is the way they treated the prophets before you, this is the way they treated Jesus, this is the way they treated the apostles, this is the way they treated the martyrs, the Reformers, the Puritans, the Covenanters and Huguenots, the missionaries of more modern times, your brothers and sisters across the world today - indeed Christians of all eras. Some have been more notable in their suffering, but something we generally share in common with all the saints is rejection by men.

How has your righteousness and faith in Jesus been tested by persecution? Do you remain faithful under trial? Is your commitment to righteousness and to Jesus such that it can bear the insults of the world?

In the last beatitude we learned to pursue peace. In this beatitude we are reminded to seek after righteousness as well, even when it provokes persecution. Not only should you pursue righteousness, but also joy. Jesus tells the disciples, "rejoice and be glad!" Rejoice not in the pain of the suffering, but in the blessings that are yours and the fellowship in suffering that you share with your Master and your fellow disciples. Do all of this as disciples of Jesus, holding fast to Him through trials, temptations, and ridicule. And know that your reward far surpasses all the blessings that men may seek in this life. As Martin Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” concludes,

“And take they our life,
Goods, fame, child and wife,
Let these all be gone,
They yet have nothing won;
The Kingdom ours remaineth.”

Friday, December 20, 2019

The Beatitudes: The Peacemakers

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

Who are the peacemakers? Peacemakers are those who make peace. This can be broken down into four aspects. First, peacemakers have a peaceable disposition. Second, peacemakers do not cause strife with bitterness or malice (they are not "peace-breakers"). Third, peacemakers pursue reconciliation and harmony with others. Fourth, peacemakers pursue reconciliation and harmony between others.

Peacemaker make peace by being patient, forgiving, generous, and just. They make peace by restraining the violent and unjust, by encouraging patience and generosity, by deescalating situations with gentle, fair, and careful words. They do not always avoid conflict (they are not "peace-fakers"), but when they engage in a conflict it is with the goal of peace and in a manner that fits that goal.

Peace is a beautiful thing. As Thomas Watson (1620-1686) remarked, "It is not fairness of rooms that makes a house pleasant, but peaceableness of dispositions." A shabby house with peace is more beautiful than a fine house with discord and bitterness.

Where there is no peace, the Spirit is not active, since peace is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). Where there is no peace, the kingdom of God is not present, since peace is of the essence of the kingdom (Rom. 14:17). Where there are no peacemakers, there are no disciples of Jesus.

The world loves the idea of peace, but it does not know peace nor does it make peace. It is not enough to admire peace - they are blessed who make peace, not merely admire peace. The disciples of Jesus know peace with God, and are therefore able to share this peace with others.

Why are peacemakers blessed? They are blessed because in this way they prove to be true sons of the God of peace. He is long-suffering, generous, forgiving, and on a mission of reconciliation, pursuing peace with His world (2 Cor. 5:19). The children of God are like Him by being peacemakers; the children of the devil are like him by being murderers, hating and being hated.

God shows His grace by taking the disciples of Jesus as His children. He adopts them, giving them access, fatherly care, and an inheritance in His household. He begets them spiritually so that they begin to resemble Him.

Consider then, whether you a peacemaker. Do you make peace? Do you words generally promote peace or initiate strife? Do you seek reconciliation with the brother who has offended you (Matt. 18:15) and the brother whom you have offended (Matt. 5:23-24)? Do you seek peace with all men (Rom 12:18), even your adversaries (Matt. 5:25)?

Seek and pursue after peace. Do not treat it as a nice by-product, an accessory, but rather as a goal. Cultivate a peaceable disposition rooted in God’s grace. Put away bitterness and malice, and seek harmony and fellowship with your brother and your neighbor.

Peace is a sign of God’s grace, of His kingdom come to earth, of His likeness being imprinted on yours. Blessed are you peacemakers, disciples of the Prince of peace, for you are children of God. He is your loving Father and He cares for you.


For prior posts in this series, see:
1. "The Beatitudes: Introduction"
2. "The Beatitudes: The Poor in Spirit"
3. "The Beatitudes: Those Who Mourn"

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

The Beatitudes: The Pure in Heart

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

What does it mean to be pure in heart? Something that is pure is not diluted with impurities, but is genuine and true. This who are pure in heart are sincere and single-minded. This is what sets apart Jesus’ path of discipleship from the way of the Pharisees. It demands righteousness in the heart, not merely in externals. There is a purity of heart that is possible for His disciples to attain in this life. Even though it is not a perfect purity, it is a purity which is comprehensive (the whole person), definitive (begun in conversion), and growing (growing throughout this life). The apostle Peter appealed to this purification as a past event with present consequences when he said,
"Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God…" (1 Peter 1:22-23). 
Why are the pure in heart blessed? They are blessed because "they shall see God." They shall see God's glory and enjoy His favor. Those who are purified in this life shall see the Lord. As Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.”

Even in this life, the pure in heart see God by faith. The saints are transformed by this revelation, as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 3:18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” The vision of the Lord transforms us, making us shine with glory even as Moses’ face shone with glory.

The pure shall more immediately see God when He appears at the end of the age. As 1 John 3:2 says, “we know that when [God] appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” They shall see God’s glory in Jesus Christ, as the apostles saw Him on the mountain at His transfiguration.  The pure shall see God’s glory by gaining an overwhelming impression of His true glory, holiness, and love. And then we shall be perfectly purified, transformed according to His purity. No sin shall disrupt our satisfaction in God’s beautiful holiness and love.

Are you pure in heart? Have you purified your heart through faith in the gospel? Have you been born again by the Spirit? Do not expect perfect purity, as if sin did not also dwell within. But have you turned to God without reserve, undergoing a change of heart, so that from the heart you hate sin, love God, and desire holiness?

And as disciples of Jesus, pursue purity of heart. Strive after holiness in soul and body. Religion is not merely an external thing - it is especially a matter of the heart. Reform your actions, but also cultivate the affections and thoughts of the heart. Fight sin and impurity there. Pray for God’s mercy upon your heart, to give you a clean heart, a faithful heart, a pure heart.

If you find this seed of purity begun in your heart, take heart, you are blessed. The seed of grace results in the flower of glory. You shall see God. You shall receive the blessed vision of God in all His glory. You shall enjoy eternal and unbroken communion with God. This communion is begun now - and how good this union is! Yet it shall be even more direct and overwhelming when faith gives way to sight.


For prior posts in this series, see:
1. "The Beatitudes: Introduction"
2. "The Beatitudes: The Poor in Spirit"
3. "The Beatitudes: Those Who Mourn"

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

The Beatitudes: The Merciful

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

What is it to be merciful? Thomas Watson (1620-1686) put it this way:
“What is meant by mercifulness? I answer, it is a melting disposition whereby we lay to heart the miseries of others and are ready on all occasions to be instrumental for their good.” 
Mercy involves sharing in the afflictions of other with sympathy and compassion. It is something that begins on the inside. The opposite of mercy is a hard heart. The blessed disciple is not the disciple who is detached from the world, who cares for himself by distancing himself from the suffering of others. The blessed disciple is the one who feels for others, who has compassion on others and desires to help them. It is provoked by the afflictions and needs of others in body and soul. This disposition results in action. It leads you to help others and forgive others. It leads to charitable giving, charitable opinions of others, care for the sick and injured, hospitality, encouraging words, and a helping hand.

Consider the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37). The priest and the Levite hardened their hearts, walking on the other side of the road. What made the good Samaritan different? When he saw the half dead man, he had compassion (v. 33) and then showed him mercy (v. 37) by caring for his wounds, bringing him to the inn, and giving money for his care. As Jesus said at the end of that parable: "You go, and do likewise."

Why are the merciful blessed? They are blessed because "they shall receive mercy." Those who do not forgive, will not be forgiven (6:14-15). Those who have no mercy for their fellow disciples will be shown no mercy on the day of judgement (25:31-46). But those who forgive others and show mercy to others are those who will be forgiven and shown mercy by God. God will pardon them even in this life as soon as they turn to Christ with faith and repentance. God will show them His fatherly favor and compassion even now - providing for their needs, directing all things for their good, giving them strength and deliverance. He will also acquit them in the day of judgement, passing over their sins for Christ’s sake and praising and rewarding their good deeds, delivering them from all their misery.

Are you merciful? Do you find yourself having compassion on those who suffer? Does this “melting disposition” motivate you to be helpful to them?

In what ways can you be more merciful? As a disciple of Jesus, you ought to be merciful. Do not insulate yourself from the suffering of others, especially the suffering of your brothers and sisters in Christ. Call out to God for a more merciful heart. Let not your heart be hardened. Show mercy by encouraging the weak, evangelizing the lost, patiently correcting the wayward, forgiving one another, practicing hospitality and sharing your selves and stuff, giving charitably and helping those in need.

If you are a merciful disciple, then take heart! Even if your acts of mercy seem small and pitiful, you shall be shown the great and marvelous mercy of God. Blessed are you, the merciful, for you will receive comfort in weakness, help in troubled times, deliverance from evil, and favor in the day of judgement.


For prior posts in this series, see:
1. "The Beatitudes: Introduction"
2. "The Beatitudes: The Poor in Spirit"
3. "The Beatitudes: Those Who Mourn"

Thursday, December 12, 2019

The Beatitudes: Thirsting for Righteousness

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Matthew 5:6)

What is it to hunger and thirst for righteousness? Hunger and thirst are strong desires for food and water, things which are both needful and satisfying. Jesus is saying that His disciples will have a craving for righteousness. They will value righteousness like food and water. Righteousness will bring them satisfaction and delight.

This hunger for righteousness includes our desire for a righteous status before God and our desire to see righteousness prevail in the world, but judging from the use of righteousness in the surrounding context (5:10, 20), it primarily refers to our desire to be righteous in heart and deed. This is part of repentance. Not only do you recognize your poverty (5:3) and mourn over your sins (5:4), but you turn to God and a desire for renewed obedience. Jesus had shown this hunger for righteousness in the temptation in the prior chapter when He told the devil that He would live not by bread alone, but by the words of God (4:4). In John 4:34, Jesus said His food was to do the will of the one who sent Him. In a similar way, the disciples of Jesus hunger and thirst to do the will of God and to be righteous in every respect. They treasure righteousness. They are attracted to righteousness. They crave righteousness.

Why are they blessed? Usually we consider the full blessed, not the hungry and thirsty. But those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, because God shall satisfy them by giving them righteousness. God gives them Christ’s righteousness through faith, reckoning it as their own. God is putting all things to right, and will do so definitively at the end of the age. God is infusing Christ’s righteousness into His people, making them more righteous by their union with Christ. Our conformity to righteousness is imperfect in this life, but it shall be complete in the age to come, and we shall delight in "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13). But woe to those who are full and satisfied now, who do not long for this perfect righteousness. Those who do not hunger and thirst for righteousness shall not be satisfied.

Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness? I do not ask if are you righteous in everything you do, but I ask: do you desire righteousness? Do you seek after righteousness? Do you prize the righteousness of Christ, imputed to your account and infused into your being?

May you hunger and thirst for righteousness, more and more! Having mourned for your sins, earnestly desire what is right and just. Love righteousness and delight in its beauty. Crave righteousness like food and drink, desiring to satisfy yourself with it. The craving may be frustrating, for you will not gain it all at once. But keep your eye on the goal. Seek it as a disciple of Christ, and you shall find it by grace.

And if you hunger and thirst after righteousness with faith in Jesus, you are blessed, for you will be satisfied. Even now, you enjoy the righteousness of Christ and stand before God justified and accepted. Even now, that indestructible seed of righteousness has been implanted in you and is growing. One day, not sinful desire, not corruption, but pure righteousness shall be yours.


For prior posts in this series, see:
1. "The Beatitudes: Introduction"
2. "The Beatitudes: The Poor in Spirit"
3. "The Beatitudes: Those Who Mourn"

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

The Beatitudes: The Meek

“Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” (Matthew 5:5)

Who are the meek? The meek are not violent, grasping, cruel, or easily provoked. Instead, the meek are gentle, peaceable, restrained from giving evil for evil. Contrary to popular opinion, being meek is not the same as being hesitant and cowardly. The meek are self-controlled and patient, repaying evil with good. It is natural to be easily aggravated, to strike back, to assert yourself at the slightest injury. This may be natural in our fallen condition, but it is not good, and it is not the way of Christ’s disciples.

Why are the meek blessed? The reason is that they shall inherit the earth. The world thinks the violent shall inherit the earth. You might feel that you cannot risk being meek and merciful. It is natural to think that it is necessary to aggressively assert yourself and grab what you can get, otherwise others will take advantage of you and you will loose everything. People like the idea of being meek, but they cannot risk it in a world of wolves. They think that in this world you have to claw your way to the top and snap at those who threaten you. But Jesus declared that the meek are blessed, for they are the true heirs of the earth.

How do the meek inherit the earth? They inherit the earth now and in the age to come. On the one hand, the meek are gaining their inheritance now through spiritual conflict. Like Joshua, but in a spiritual manner, they are conquering the earth by the gospel of Christ. Like Israel, the meek do not gain their inheritance without a struggle, even though their gospel weapons can look as counterintuitive as the Israelites walking around Jericho. Yet they have "divine power to destroy strongholds" (2 Cor. 9:4). The meek advance not by violence and greed, but through the grace of God. And while they engage the struggle, God cares for their earthly needs (Matt. 6:33). On the other hand, believers look to that final day in which we shall inherit the earth, the "new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells" (2 Peter 3:13). They look to the day when Christ shall return, raise them from the dead, purify the earth from sin and evil, and dwell there with His people (Ps. 37, Ps. 104:35, 1 Cor. 15:20-28, Rev. 20:11-21:8). Therefore they presently walk in their inheritance, knowing that this is their Father’s world which they shall one day fully possess. Abraham is a great example in this respect. He was meek, peaceable, not grasping, and knew by faith that the land he walked in was his inheritance.

With this in mind, are you meek? Do you practice meekness toward your family, or friends, or co-workers? In other words, are you self-controlled, patient, and gentle? Where can you work on being more meek?

Seek after meekness, for it is one mark of Jesus' disciples. His disciples learn, more and more, to be meek. They will learn to be self-controlled, humble, and peaceable. They will trust God to give them their inheritance rather than resorting to sinful practices to get what they want.

And if you are meek, though the world may think you foolish, you are blessed. You are an heir of the earth if you are Christ's (1 Cor. 3:21-23). You do not hold your possessions uneasily as a trespasser in God's earth. You are in your Father’s world, and you shall remain forever. You await a sure and unfading inheritance. Though the wicked prosper for a time, their prosperity is deceptive. Your gain is real and eternal.
"In just a little while, the wicked will be no more;
     though you look carefully at his place, he will not be there.
But the meek shall inherit the land
     and delight themselves in abundant peace."
(Psalm 37:10–11)


For prior posts in this series, see:
1. "The Beatitudes: Introduction"
2. "The Beatitudes: The Poor in Spirit"
3. "The Beatitudes: Those Who Mourn"

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Beatitudes: Those Who Mourn

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

Why do the disciples of Jesus mourn? They mourn for their sins, the sins of others, for evils, for unjust suffering they endure, for the suffering that others experience. Jesus mourned during His time on earth when He saw sin and death in His world. The blessed ones are not those who are above suffering and sadness, detached from this world. No, they are those who in this age mourn. They know the glory that was lost and miss it. They are appalled at the corruption in this world and in their hearts. And so they are sad.

Why are they blessed? Mourning is not inherently a blessing, but the promised comfort is. It is those who now mourn that shall be comforted. They shall receive the glory that was lost. God will wipe away their tears and take away their pain and sorrow. They shall know everlasting joy in union with God. Even now they know the comfort of God's promises and His ongoing care. Even now they receive His comfort through His word and His people (see 2 Cor. 1:3-7). But those who do not mourn over their sins, who are gay and jolly now despite their sins and the evil of this world, they shall not find comfort in the time to come.

Do you mourn? Have you been touched with sadness for your sins? Do they bring you sorrow? Does the corruption of this world bring you sorrow? Can you say with the Psalmist: “My eyes shed streams of tears, because people do not keep your law” (Psalm 119:136). Do you mourn over the sad condition of Christ’s church, its impurity, its disunity, its sins and errors, and the suffering it receives from its enemies? If you do not mourn, it is not for lack of things to mourn for.

As disciples of Jesus, be those who mourn. Do not mourn without hope, and do not mourn greatly over the little things and little over the great things. Do you desire to be a better mourner? Then reflect on what is good and love it. Then turn your gaze to this present life and see where it falls short - the sin, the curse, the suffering, the disgrace. Do not harden your hearts.

If you mourn in this way, then take heart - you are blessed. You shall be comforted. You shall know enduring, everlasting comfort. Even now, you shall begin to be comforted by God’s word and promise, by His presence and favor. Even now, you shall gain a foretaste of this comfort, and even the foretaste is more meaningful and substantial than the weak comfort of the apathetic and self-satisfied.


For prior posts in this series, see:
1. "The Beatitudes: Introduction"
2. "The Beatitudes: The Poor in Spirit"

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Beatitudes: The Poor in Spirit

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

"Return of the Prodigal Son" by Rembrandt
Who are the poor in spirit? The poor are lowly, afflicted, and in need. The poor in spirit are this way, but not externally in wealth or class, but in spirit. The poor in spirit are inwardly afflicted over their sins, they are humble before God and man, and they beg for God’s mercy, knowing their need. Those who follow Christ see themselves as poor in spirit, dependent upon God’s grace. They have an attitude of humility and gratitude.

Why are the poor in spirit blessed? Because this is how one receives the kingdom of heaven, with repentant humility and grateful trust. As Jesus said in Luke 18:17, "Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it." The kingdom of heaven does not belong to the self-satisfied, the self-confident, or the proud. It belongs to the childlike, the penitent, the grateful. The kingdom of heaven belongs to beggars of mercy. Though they may look afflicted and lowly, yet they are blessed citizens of the heavenly realm.

So consider: are you poor in spirit? Do you realize your poverty? Do you prize Jesus like a poor man prizes his daily bread? Do you realize why He is so needful?

Set aside your self-sufficiency and be poor in spirit. Continue to subdue your pride and cultivate a penitent spirit. As Martin Luther said in the first of his ninety-five theses, "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, 'Repent' (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance." On his deathbed, the final words of Luther also reflected this beatitude: “We are beggars. It is true.” May that be your attitude toward Jesus - come to His word as beggars, come to His Supper as beggars, come to prayer as beggars. He exalts the lowly and will not turn away the one who comes to Him broken and needy.

If you are poor in spirit, take heart - you are blessed! Yours is the kingdom of heaven! Blessed are you who have been struck with the holiness of God and have humbled yourself before Him! Blessed are you who realize your need and turn to Christ and the riches of His grace! You have entered the heavenly kingdom, the realm of God’s blessings.


For the first post in this series, see: "The Beatitudes: Introduction"

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

The Beatitudes: Introduction

Over the next several weeks, I will be posting a series on the Beatitudes as they are recorded in the Gospel according to Matthew (5:1-12). Here I want to make some general observations about the Beatitudes. They read as follows:

"Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:
'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.'"
1. The Beatitudes are descriptions of Jesus' disciples. It is the disciples of Jesus who are the primary audience of this teaching: "his disciples came to him." He had begun calling His disciples in chapter 4, telling them to follow Him, and now they begin to learn what it means to follow Jesus. He is not giving principles of generic morality which you can plug in to any religion. He is talking about those who follow Jesus (4:19), who suffer for His name’s sake (5:11), who will be judged by Jesus on the basis of their relationship with Jesus (7:21-27).

2. Jesus says these things on a mountain. We are not sure what mountain this is - it could be a reference to the Galilean hills - but obviously the identity of the mountain is not the point. The point is that Jesus was on a mountain. In this way, He was like Moses at Mount Sinai. Both of them delivered from a mountain the words of the covenant that define our relationship with God. God's covenant includes promises of blessings to covenant-keepers (Deut. 28:1-14), and in the Sermon on the Mount we find this especially in the Beatitudes. The covenant also includes the promise of curses on those who forsake the covenant (Deut. 28:15-68), and we find this especially at the end of the Sermon on the Mount in 7:15-27.

3. This is not a normal description of the good life. The world seeks after the good life and argues about the way it is to be found. Is it found by fulfilling your desires now, enjoying this world to the max? Or is it found by the suppression of your desires, resigning yourself to your fate?

Jesus taught that the blessed life is found, not by following some technique, but by participating in the kingdom of heaven. The blessedness of this kingdom does not come all at once. It does not fulfill your desires, neither does it suppress them, but directs them to an increasing and eternal fulfillment. It is a kingdom of hope. It looks to the blessings that come from the God who is in heaven, blessings which begin now and culminate in the age to come.

And one comes to enjoy this blessedness in an unexpected way - it comes through the hard road of discipleship. To enjoy the blessings of the kingdom, you must repent of your sins and turn to Christ. The Beatitudes are an explanation of Jesus' basic proclamation from the previous chapter: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand” (4:17). Each of the initial descriptions (e.g. the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, etc.) are variations on repentance. And as is made clear by the identical reference to the kingdom in the first and last beatitudes, each of the blessings listed in the other beatitudes are variations on what it is to participate in the kingdom of heaven.