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Open Source Sermon (Tuesday, September 15)

15 Sep

The Beatitudes are part of the larger “Sermon on the Mount” delivered by Jesus and recorded in chapters 5 through 7 of the book of Matthew. The Sermon is one of the most analyzed portions of the New Testament, and it has been broken apart, bit by bit, for the last 2000 years. We do not have time to study the relationship between Matthew’s “Sermon on the Mount” and Luke’s “Sermon on the Plain” (see Luke 6.17-49). Nor will I take the time to study whether or not the Sermon was a collection of various teachings of Jesus or a single sermon delivered at a single setting. There is hardly enough time to list all of the possible issues to study for they are legion, to say the least.

One of the classic discussions about the Sermon is whether or not the Sermon describes “entrance requirements for the Kingdom” or “eschatological rewards.” Some see the words of Jesus describing a new ethic for His followers. Where the law taught that adultery was just a physical act, the new ethic for the Kingdom is to not even look lustfully on a woman. The law taught that murder was sinful, but Jesus’ new ethic is that anger is sinful. Those who want to enter the Kingdom of God must embrace the new ethical standards.

Others see the Sermon as a description of the eschatological rewards. Eschatology refers to the end times or the period of history after the return of Jesus. So, Jesus’ words describe the rewards that await those who follow Christ in the here and now. Life as a follower of Christ can be difficult today (poverty, persecution, anxiety, etc.), but we should live in such a way as to store up for ourselves treasures in heaven.

In applying this big picture theme to the Beatitudes themselves, we see how it determines our interpretation of the Beatitudes. If the “Blessed are those who” statements are ethical requirements, then Jesus is telling us how to behave as followers of Christ. If the “Blessed are those who” statements are eschatological rewards, then Jesus is giving hope to the downcast.

Of course, there are more options than these two when reading the Beatitudes. For instance, many have suggested that the wisdom poetry of the Hebrews is a better model for reading the Beatitudes. Compare the Beatitudes with the wisdom literature of the Proverbs or the Psalms. Consider the opening words to the book of Psalms:

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. Not so the wicked! They are like chaff that the wind blows away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish. (Psalm 1)

If we read the Beatitudes as wisdom literature, how would that be different from reading them as “entrance requirements” or as “eschatological rewards”? Share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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4 Comments

Posted by on September 15, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

4 responses to “Open Source Sermon (Tuesday, September 15)

  1. Charles Alexander

    September 15, 2009 at 10:22 am

    To see the beatitudes as “entrance requirements” seems to suggest a works based salvation. On the other hand, to see them as “eschatological rewards” seems to suggest a sort of quid pro quo by which we would tolerate the suffering of injustices here in anticipation of future gains. Insofar as comparison with other wisdom literature, the Psalm 1 passage again seems to suggest a quid pro quo arrangement in which the rewards of proper behavior are very tangible and relatively immediate. Other scripture clearly teaches that rain falls on the just and the unjust and that the wicked sometimes prosper while the righteous sometimes suffer without apparent reason. I like the “new ethic for His followers” approach better. The beatitudes set forth the standards toward which followers of Jesus strive. While we often fall far short, growth in Christ continually moves us in the right direction.

     
  2. tpylant

    September 15, 2009 at 10:30 am

    Thanks for your insight, Charles. I came across an interesting quote regarding the beatitudes as wisdom literature. The author wrote, “For a funny thing happened to wisdom on the way to the first century. It ran into Job and Ecclesiastes. It ran into the bad news that the good are not always rewarded in this life, as traditional wisdom had insisted….Apocalyptic gave cagery wisdom a paradoxical twist: Happy are the unhappy, for God will make them happy–on the last day.” (John Meier).

    I don’t know that I am entirely satisfied with reading the beatitudes from a wisdom literature perspective, but I think there is some merit there.

     
  3. Brian Mattson

    September 15, 2009 at 5:12 pm

    I’m not sure that my take on the Beatitudes can fall in either of the two categories mentioned. There might be flares of both but not necessarilty an either/or position. I think the key to understanding the opening statements of the SOM is to know what “blessed” means. Many translations and popular Bible teachers profess that ‘blessed’ means ‘happy.’ This does not seem to fit the experience of most believers that I know. ‘Happy’ are those who are persecuted…To make a long argument very short, I prefer the definition of ‘blessed,’ to mean ‘approved by God.’ In other words, God’s stamp of approval is upon you if you are experiencing this now. This does not mean that we ought to seek the characteristics mentioned in the SOM. Again, it does not make sense, to seek to be persecuted for the name of Jesus. It does, however, make sense that God still approves of you if you find yourself persecuted for the name of Jesus. God still approves of you if you find yourself ‘poor in spirit’ or down on yourself thinking that you will not amount to anything. The approval of God comes in the idea that you do not need to be anything or anyone (contrary to the teachings of the religious elite who said that you had to aspire to their form of godliness) other than who you are, right where you find yourself. In a sense, Jesus is saying to that person who finds themselves in the situations that Jesus lists to hold on hope is on the way. His audience would have been looking forward to the Messianic age when God would right the wrongs. Jesus is in no way advocating that we sit by and watch injustice but he is saying to those facing injustice that hope is on the way. In fact, Matthew sets up his Gospel in such a way to show that the reality of the Messianic age can be experienced to some extent here and now as we await that final day of restoration.

    Just a thought…

     
    • tpylant

      September 16, 2009 at 9:05 am

      Brian,
      You are totally right, the Sermon cannot be confined in a narrow “ethics” or “rewards” grid. In fact, the more I read the Sermon (and so many other teachings of Jesus or the apostles), I see more and more application and truth. Since the Word of God is living and active, the Spirit continues to speak in new and dynamic ways.
      The “approved by God” definition for “blessed” is an interesting thought, and that does fit well with Luke’s version, too. But I do think that Jesus was encouraging His followers to become like Him in embracing the Beatitudes. We are to rejoice when we experience suffering and to consider ourselves blessed (see James 1 and Romans 5). We are to be merciful, humble, peacemakers, and pure in heart. Perhaps we need all of the interpretive frameworks to catch all of the grace falling down through the Sermon.

       

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