Saturday, May 24, 2014

Beatitudes Don't Tell Us How to Be Saved - They Describe the Saved

Part 1 - Charles Spurgeon on the Beatitudes

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him,  and he began to teach them.
Matthew 5:1-2 

As the first of the sermons opens, Spurgeon reminds us that the Sermon on the Mount is being delivered by the person, Jesus, who best knows who are blessed and who are cursed. The prophets before Him like Isaiah and Jeremiah, had heard from God and reported to the Jews about certain peoples and cities that were blessed or cursed. In the New Testament we are going to hear from the Son of God just what a blessed person should be doing. He will answer the question: How will you know a Christian when you see one?

Before we can get to those descriptions however, it is critical to warn against seeing these seven points of light as the things you must do to be saved. There is only one way to be saved, and that is through making a decision to accept the free gift of salvation offered by the Holy Spirit. Your part in this is only the repenting of your past sins and the decision to follow a new way of life; to put your trust and faith in Jesus, not in the world. You can't work your way into heaven, even if you were to spend the rest of your life trying to live out the beatitudes as best you knew how.

The Beatitudes are not a set of works you need to do after salvation to make God happy. God wants to make you happy. He knows that when you worship Him or do as He says that you will be Blessed (Happy). The Beatitudes are a prescription to a sick human soul as to how you will be blessed (happy and joyful) when you abide in Jesus and are instructed by the Holy Spirit. Those who do exhibit the characteristics of the Beatitudes will also exhibit Christ. "You will know them by their fruits."

The other night in a small group Bible study I attend, the subject turned to pleasing and displeasing God. Many agreed that they commonly felt that they "needed" to spend more time in the Bible, praying, praising, or doing good deeds in order to please God. These mature Christians, including yours truly, knew better, but still had difficulty with the ideas that our love of God should result in doing that which pleases Him, not pressure or a sense of obligation or to meet His "expectations."

Certainly God desires us to obey Him, be intimate with Him, and love Him, but He isn't keeping a checklist of your daily Christian habits to determine how much He is going to bless you, or to determine if you are saved. He already knows your heart on the latter matter. And your blessings flow consequentially out of your fruitfulness.

The opposite issue was more difficult. When we sin, we clearly grieve the heart of the Father, regardless of the fact that the sin is already covered by the blood of Jesus. But once again, whether or not we repent won't have anything to do with our ticket into eternity with Jesus. Our repenting will, however, bless us immeasurably. And to the extent that we sin, there may and likely will be some negative consequences growing out of that sin. God doesn't need to strike you with lightening, give you a disease, or mess up your life. Those consequences are built in to the act.

Jesus prepares to deliver the Sermon on the Mount

Spurgeon sets the stage for the delivery of the Sermon on the Mount. He tells us that Jesus "beheld the multitude," and that this was the perfect time to give such a sermon. Spurgeon says that our hearts should be moved to pity when considering the multitude, just as Jesus was when crying over Jerusalem. This crowd, like the crowd around you on any given day, is much to be pitied. For they are damned to an eternity without God, even as they are currently damned to life on earth without Him as Master.

Do you pity the crowd or stand in judgement of the crowd? If they are not saved they have no expectation of understanding the gravity of their actions. Therefore we should not judge them. But we should be sorrowful about their condition, as we would for a little girl lost in a supermarket looking for her mom.

The sermon was likely being given to a chosen group of disciples, not the entire multitude, though fair minded individuals could come to different conclusions on this. Many of the multitude who would later hear what Jesus said from the disciples, were a long way from being saved. But even this early use of the word disciples may be better understood as students or learners, rather than as those having made a decision to be true disciples of Jesus. Later we will see that some of the multitude and some of the disciples fell away.

The opening word of the sermon is blessed or happy. Spurgeon points to the end of the Old Testament and the final words being about cursings.

 “See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.(emphasis added)

Malachi 4:5-6

Now in the New Testament, Jesus is teaching, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel." Mark 1:15b (King James). And the gospel He says we should believe is about salvation and blessing: "For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him." John 3:17

So we have nine Beatitudes, nine ways that we can be assured of being blessed, and we know that Jesus desires that we be blessed. It is His mission, because He loves us. 

I think we often lose sight of this idea that God said from Genesis forward that He wants His people to have the best possible life. The way to that best is through obedience. We pray a prayer of thanks after we are blessed, but we should be expectant that our prayers will be answered, our needs filled, and our days blessed if we are obedient.

The first seven of the Beatitudes are about character, the kind of character that will grow like ripe fruit on the vine of our faithfulness. The last two are a benediction that deals with blessings that will arise when the excellent character of the Christ followers who have just been described in the first seven has "provoked the hostility of the wicked." Many will feel threatened if you actually look and act the way the Beatitudes describe. Some of those will revile you, persecute you, and worse. But, paradoxically, you will be blessed through and because of your persecution.

The seven Beatitudes describe a person of perfect character, and each of these is remarkable by itself. If Jesus had only come to tell His followers to be peacemakers, that would have been revolutionary. But there was to be so much more that would upset the social order of the day, not just among the pagans, but even among the Jews. As revolutionary as these seven ideals were then, they still amaze us today...or should.

Are you amazed by the Beatitudes? Possibly you appreciate them, but are not amazed. Maybe you have been taught that the poor refers to poor people, and that mourning is referring to a time when you've lost a loved one. Maybe your thinking that peacemakers are those who try to broker peace in the family or at work. I think you will be amazed to hear what Spurgeon says about these things. 
Spurgeon insists that we take the Beatitudes as a whole, however. He describes them as a ladder of light, where each step on the ladder requires having stepped already on the previous rung. He sees them as ascending; each one rising above the other. Going from being poor in spirit to being pure in heart would seem to be a very large leap without steps in between.

He also points out that while the character aspects are moving ever upward, the requirement for humility and sacrifice becomes greater. So just at a moment when the Christian might be feeling proud of his own meekness, he is faced with the reality that this pride must be put under the blood. Rather their self esteem is put aside, reduced, eliminated enough to take on the humblest tasks. We must die to self in order to truly love others.

Jesus showed this so memorably when He washed the feet of the disciples. This was a job for a slave, not a leader, a rabbi, a prophet, a king. We commonly assume that our position in life through titles, accomplishments, wealth, status, or merely having gotten to a certain age, bestows us with certain entitlements. We shouldn't need to do this lowly task any longer, and others should look up to us and be willing to serve. Jesus in His actions and in this sermon throw out that canard.

Spurgeon goes on to explain that each of the Beatitudes depends on the previous ones. This was one of the biggest eye-openers for me. We will address that in the next post.  

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You may wish to go back to an earlier post that served as in introduction to this series:

The Beatitudes as You've Never Heard Them

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