… a Tremendous Gift
While revisiting the Sermon on the Mount recently, the Spirit impressed upon me some things that were quite unexpected. I suppose the bridge between the Old and New Testaments has always been more than a little fuzzy to me, and to be honest most of what is taught on this subject by contemporary teachers has been of little help in clarifying the matter. My friends, it is vital that we understand why Jesus Christ came, what He brought in terms of God’s requirements for man, and what He represents to us in meeting them.
Now these passages – starting in Matthew 5 – are quite familiar to most Christians, and have generally been the focus of many sermons and studies for the last 2,000 years. Herein lies the heart and pulse of our faith. Many of you are probably convinced that you have gotten the message. Well then, I hope I don’t upset too many apple carts by what I am about to share, but there you have it – what we hear in the dark, we are to share in the light.
To begin with, none of what our Lord says here makes a lick of sense to our human reasoning, intuition or experience. Everything man has ever desired is summed up here in what he is offering – comfort, belonging, fullness of life, mercy and forgiveness, consciousness of and fellowship with the divine, peace, etc – yet the path to these ideals defies everything our Adamic experience presents to us.
We can be happy and blessed when we mourn? When there is bitter loss and grief in our lives? When all that we love and are attached to is wrenched violently away from us? When the pain in our heart threatens to consume every thought and impulse? When the world and its murderous god revile and persecute us, and accuse us of being the opposite of what we truly are, we are to rejoice and be exceedingly glad? Exceedingly glad? Does this make any sense to you?
How many Christians do you know out there who are mourning some recent loss, or suffering under the weight of this evil world who would admit to being exceedingly glad? Is this how you respond to such torment in this life? When a loved one dies unexpectedly? When your business runs dry and you see no possible way to provide for your family? Is this normative for most church people? What is our Lord asking of us here? What can it possibly mean? Is this what Jesus was feeling on that final agonizing evening in the garden, with drops of blood spilling from His body? Was he happy? Did He feel blessed as the very sense of the Father’s presence and abiding was slipping away from Him?
Matt 26:38 Then He said to them, “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.”
39 He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, “O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.”
40 Then He came to the disciples and found them sleeping, and said to Peter, “What! Could you not watch with Me one hour? 41 Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”
42 Again, a second time, He went away and prayed, saying, “O My Father, *if this cup cannot pass away from Me unless I drink it, Your will be done.” 43 And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.
44 So He left them, went away again, and prayed the third time, saying the same words. 45 Then He came to His disciples and said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Behold, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand.”
Betrayal, loss, mourning, impending death – and what does the Scripture say about what He was feeling? Read it again: “My soul is exceedingly glad, even to death”. But that’s not what it says is it – “exceedingly sorrowful”! Hmmm. Could this be the same Jesus who earlier in His ministry spoke the sermon on the mount, telling us that blessing and happiness will come to us out of every manner of pain, loss and betrayal?
Was not our Lord the pinnacle of humility, meekness, mercy, peace, purity of heart while on the earth? Did He not hunger and thirst for righteousness, more than even bodily food? Was He not a peacemaker, and did He not show mercy to all the many that came to Him, even those who reviled and cursed Him? If this be so, then where then is the gladness and blessing He promises. If even He – having attained every one of the divine attributes – did not attain these things on this earth, how then are we to read this?
Perhaps some of you are at this moment jumping in your seat, screaming – “go to verse 12, go to verse 12, which reads…
Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great [is] your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you. (Matt 5:12)
Ah – so all of these rewards – the peace, fullness, the comfort, the belonging, the promise of being a child of God – these come later; this is what He is getting at. They are not earthly fulfillments at all but heavenly. Is this what you believe my brother? That after a lifetime of bitterness, mourning, loss, persecution, betrayal – we ultimately and finally get rewarded in heaven with blessing beyond our wildest dreams? That all His provision and promise is delayed?
Let me ask you some questions. Here goes… are your ready?
Until our Lord was falsely accused, betrayed, crucified, then resurrected to sit at the right hand of the Father, as our Intercessor and Priestly Advocate, how could we possibly inherit the earth, for prior to that does not the scripture indicate that the devil rules the earth as the god of this world? Again, until all of the above, and the promise from on high came, how could we possibly be filled with righteousness? Does not the revelation of God indicate that He alone represents our righteousness?
1 Cor 1:30 – But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God-and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.
Still further, could we actually see the kingdom of heaven until the Glorious One had been installed as King? I think you see what I am getting at. It is not so much a heaven versus earth consideration, but rather a ‘this side of the cross versus that side of the cross’ distinction. Yes, certainly the ultimate fulfillment of these blessings will be realized beyond our bodily existence, in that place where spirit touches spirit, and our fellowship in the household of God will be unconstrained by unlikeness of any kind.
But it would be untrue and unfair to our Lord to suggest, for example that here and now we cannot be filled spiritually, obtain mercy, or relate to and fellowship with God as His children. There are also episodes of tremendous comfort mixed in with all of the earthly bitterness and suffering in the Book of Acts and elsewhere in the New Testament.
2 Cor 1:3 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, 4 who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. 5 For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ. 6 Now if we are afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation, which is effective for enduring the same sufferings which we also suffer. Or if we are comforted, it is for your consolation and salvation. 7 And our hope for you is steadfast, because we know that as you are partakers of the sufferings, so also you will partake of the consolation.
My brethren – none of that which is promised in Matthew 5 is in any manner accessible apart from the risen and indwelling Christ within us. What we see being offered and available here is in fact what we see throughout His earthly ministry – what He was promising was only available once He had returned to the Father, and the promise of the Holy Spirit was available to mankind. This is what dumbfounded the Jews, and what dumfounds so many Christians today – that He alone is the path, that He and He alone makes all of this tenable.
As Christians we come to Matthew 5 hoping to be encouraged by all of these promises of blessings and happiness. Yet we must come to Him, and He must enter into us, in order for us to apprehend and affirm all that is available here. To the hard-hearted and unbelieving Jews of His day, these were merely “hard sayings”, inaccessible to their carnal human reasoning and experience. It is the same for us today, if we have not yet received the Lord into our hearts, and His revealing and quickening Spirit.
The disciples too were mostly bewildered by this wisdom that defied all that nature and human experience revealed as true. It was only after He left them, and after they had received the promise of His indwelling Spirit, that so much of what He taught them started to become clear. All of the truth of God, and the wisdom of God, and the righteousness of God amount to nothing outside of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. He is the One who actualizes and embodies this. If we come to Matthew 5 as philosophy, or poetry or saintly religious sentiment, then we will be sadly disappointed, for it none of those things. It is the life of Jesus Christ that gives them wings, and lifts them from the page and into our lives and experience. It is He alone that makes the Book of Acts so much more than a testimony of bloody persecution. Only in Him do we see the blessing, the comfort, the mercy, the face of God in the testimony of the early apostles, most of whom were cruelly and viscously martyred.
Again, returning to this ideal of exceeding gladness – how are we to understand this? Surely this cannot be some kind of emotional joy, something swelling up from the nature of man. No, my friends, this gladness is nothing like that at all. Rather it runs far deeper, flowing out of the Father’s magnanimous and gigantic heart. It is rooted in the hope of something so much bigger and better than any good or evil this world has to offer. It is indeed big enough and deep enough to redeem and swallow up all of the pain, all of the abandonment and loss suffered in this life at the hands of the devil, fallen man and our own carnal nature. It is a gladness intrinsically rooted in a promise and a person. We can be exceedingly glad now, my friends, because in Jesus Christ – the Sure and Faithful One – we …
– will receive His mercy by the blood of His Cross
– are comforted by God Himself
– are citizens in the Kingdom of our God and children in His Eternal Household
– will one day soon inherit all of the earth
– will be filled with His Righteousness and See Him as He truly is
For, as Isaiah 61 affirms, this is why our Lord came after all –
“The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me,
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;
To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,
And the day of vengeance of our God;
To comfort all who mourn,
To console those who mourn in Zion,
To give them beauty for ashes,
The oil of joy for mourning,
The garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness;
That they may be called trees of righteousness,
The planting of the LORD, that He may be glorified.”
Moving beyond the assurance of blessings in Matthew 5, the Lord begins to advocate for a righteousness that any honest person would reckon as inaccessible beyond any measure: The reconciling quickly with our enemy, the plucking out of the lusting eye, the turning the other cheek, the giving of even more to him who would sue you, the blessing of those that curse you, the surpassing of even the painstaking righteousness of the Pharisees, and so on.
He ends the section on outward behavior in verse 48 with perhaps the height of all audacity and impossibility, by saying…
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.
Talk about asking the impossible! What kind of unreachable standard is this? Who could possibly attain it? Not even Noah or Abraham or Samuel or any of the prophets certainly. Not you or I my friend. Indeed, only the new Adam, the Holy One of Israel, the Bright and Morning Star, the Dayspring and Desire of all Nations, the One who is the Heir of all things, this One who is the Express Image of God and the only Pure Thing that the Holy Father in Heaven beholds on this earth.
Our Lord then turns in His message to the root and source of all that is wrong with man -going back to that dark and defiant day in Eden. What we see here my brothers, in nothing like the syrupy sermon language of our day, is life and death set before us in the most unqualified of terms. Oh that our preachers today would stop feathering their messages with insipid and powerless ideas that are absolutely impotent against the powers of darkness in man and the world.
“Hell fire”! I dare say. What kind of Jesus is this? Certainly not the smiley-faced, Sunday School Jesus we foist upon our children each week. Here is the real Christ, the Lion of the Tribe of Judah in full roar, in all of His anointed and prophetic veracity, telling us that we will most certainly die and burn in the fires of Hell. Here He is promising us unquenchable fire!
My friends – could it be that we have managed to get Him and His first coming all wrong? Wasn’t He supposed to soften the edges of the Old Covenant, and present a happier, easy-going God to mortal man? Wasn’t he supposed to make things easier and more accessible to us?
Here in His very first message to the people, our Lord, in all prophetic power and witness, comes out with all barrels firing, presenting a ‘no holds barred’ standard of holiness to which no man alive could possibly attain. All surface religion and outward “doing” is herein reduced to an ash heap, as He lays down an unapproachable standard of acceptance with the most unthinkable consequences for failure.
“Therefore you shall be perfect just as your Father in Heaven is perfect.”
What? Perfect? Certainly this isn’t what my pastor taught last week in our “Finding your Ultimate Potential” workshop. This must be Step #8 in our “Seven Steps to Personal Gratification” program?
My friends – if you cannot see here that all shallow, earth-bound, man-gratifying religion is emasculated by our Lord, then I’m sorry I have nothing else for you.
Rather than lowering God so that we can reach Him by ourselves, our Lord most emphatically affirms the High and Holy Character and Righteousness and Requirement of God that runs all through His Bible and universe. There is clearly no stooping here, no holiness light, with fewer calories and substance – no relaxing of the message or lowering of the bar. In fact, the Prophet Jesus (I believe that the Church and Judaism have largely missed the fact that our Lord came first as God’s Ultimate Prophet, before He ever became our Savior – perhaps we shall say more on this at a later time) seems to be going out of His way here to suggest that God is beyond the reach of man. Further, to fail by even the smallest degree, results in unspeakable torment.
So where does this leave us? What about this exceeding gladness He mentioned earlier? It almost doesn’t make sense, does it?
Well, my friends, it in fact makes perfect and heavenly sense if we can only grasp what He is laying down in the Sermon on the Mount. First He lays down a life and death standard of righteousness that no mortal man has or could possibly attain. He starts with our behavior, then digs deeper in to the heart, from which all that we are ebbs and flows. Not only are we to behave as God acts, we are to “be” as God is, deep down in the bowels of what we are. If this isn’t debilitating enough, He then assures us that failure to attain the target perfectly will result in hell fire.
To paraphrase – You will be perfect as God is perfect or you will be consigned to Hell! Period! Any questions?
How many of you have skipped through Matthew 5-7 with a grin on your face and lightness in your heart, praising Jesus for how happy and hopeful it makes you feel. Read it again, my brother – He is setting you up to fail and if you can’t see that then I am sorry brethren you have never heard the true gospel.
I get a kick out of those Christians altogether caught up with man-enabled works. Got to do the works, they say! Can’t forget the works. All right then, my brother, go to it. Oh and by the way, while you are at it, you must do them all and all the time, and if you don’t then our Lord has a one-way ticket to eternal torment with your name on it!
As we come to our Lord’s message and meaning here and throughout the Scriptures, it becomes clear that He first set the standard for acceptance before a Perfect and Holy God, which amounted to nothing short of Himself, and only Himself. No other man qualifies, or could. He then sets out to show a fallen humanity that we can indeed find this acceptance “in Him” – that He is the Father’s good gift for His children (Math 7:7, Romans 6:23), and that there is a way back to the heart of God. He is both the way (John 14:6) and the narrow gate (Matt 7:13) through which we can hope to return. His ministry begins by affirming what God expects (the what) and continues and ends with our Lord revealing aspects of Himself as the means to meeting this expectation (the how). By eliminating any other possible means at the beginning, He narrows our options so that all that stands before us is Himself. Eternal life then hinges on a singular decision whether we will believe on and receive Him or not.
Understanding this goes a long way in helping us to comprehend the unity and correlation between the Old and New Covenants, between the God of Mount Sinai and Jesus on the mount. God’s high and holy standards haven’t changed one bit from Eden to Sinai to today. How could they, for He is the same yesterday, today and forever? It would be unthinkable that our High and Holy and Perfect God would diminish Himself in any measure in order to have fellowship with His creation.
My brethren – flowing out of this is the heart and soul of the Christian faith – that in Christ alone we derive all that is required for blessing and fullness of life in God. Yes, from our perspective God is asking the impossible of us – to be absolutely perfect. Yet in His grace and love He also provides the one and only thing that makes this possible – His Perfect and Beloved Son, in whom He is well pleased. Here lies the majesty and splendor of the Christian gospel – the good news that yes, there is hope for us, and this hope has a name…
Acts 4:8-12 – Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders of Israel: If we this day are judged for a good deed done to a helpless man, by what means he has been made well, let it be known to you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead, by Him this man stands here before you whole. This is the ‘stone which was rejected by you builders, which has become the chief cornerstone.’ Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
“Not I but Christ”, passively proclaimed the Apostle Paul, affirming that any righteousness we claim can only ever be an attributed righteousness, not inherited or acquired. Understanding this places Jesus Christ up where He belongs, on God’s pedestal. He is thereby enlarged and we, with all of our religious and moral effort, reduced. He alone represents our only hope of being restored to fellowship with our God and Father. He is the Way because a Holy God demands of us something that we cannot, under any circumstances, deliver. Have you accepted this truth, my friend, because until you do, you will never enter into His rest – you will never on your own, of and by yourself, be acceptable to the Father.
Father – Holy and Righteous Father, we thank Thee that you are in no manner diminished in your glory by your offer of salvation and righteousness to us – that in your Pure and Worthy Son, we attain the divine likeness with Thee and are able to enter into your fellowship and family. We praise Thee that you see the life of your Son when you behold us, in our ups and downs, in our stops and starts and inconsistent ways. O Father, let us exalt Him as He is in Heaven, above all the heavenly hosts, above any created thing. In Him we pray, Amen.
Please pray for us here at Living-Walk, that we would watch and see the Master at work, and understand what He would have us do.
Your friend in Christ Jesus,