We’ve started a new series at church called Redefined and it’s all about Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5-7. It is perfectly titled since Jesus takes the popular understanding of his day, of who God is and what he expects from us, and redefines it. But in preaching this message I found that I need as much redefining as Jesus’ original audience. And perhaps you do to. You can listen to it here.
The people of Jesus’ day revered the revelation given to them from Moses, the prophet who climbed a mountain to hear from God. But over the years they had strayed from the intent of the law to direct people to God and instead used it, and the many extra laws they added to it, as a tool of manipulation and control. The religious leaders of Jesus day used what was given to them by God as a way to define the insiders and outsiders of society. If you’re blessed you are insider. If you are outside then you’re obviously not blessed.
So Jesus, the Prophet foretold by Moses, climbs a mountain not to receive a revelation from God but to be the revelation of God. Jesus redefines who is blessed. And it’s catastrophic for the religious. Jesus turns upside down the expectation that the strong, rich, powerful, satisfied and honoured have found favour from God. He famously goes on to say the poor, meek, unsatisfied, those uninterested in picking the winning side and persecuted are blessed. This is a scandal to the religious leaders of first century Palestine and the confrontational power of this passage applies to us as well.
The Beatitudes is not a list of things we need to be to have blessing from God. This is not primarily a passage telling us how to behave morally or how we need to change our character. This is Jesus revealing God’s character and his heart for the outsider. God loves who the powerful and connected reject. Blessings flow from God. They flow to the humble, broken and repentant and they flow because of grace.
What the people of Jesus day had done with the law was use it to define insiders and outsiders as a tool of control and manipulation. But they also used their laws in an attempt to control God. The had made blessing from God transactional. ‘If I do this or behave this way or am seen to be righteous then I will be blessed with more money, good relationships and health’.
Let’s not make the same mistake with the Beatitudes. They are not transactional. I am not meant to read them and think I need to be poorer in spirit so I can be blessed. They are relational. I am meant to read them and think even in my failure God is my father who blesses me because I am his son. They are revelational. When I see the heart of God in the Beatitudes I discover that his heart is much bigger than mine. He cares about those who don’t think they are worth caring for and he loves those who won’t love themselves. People I’ve looked down on or overlooked or labeled an outsider are the very people in God’s heart. God heart is for the outsider. Which is just as well since we were all outsiders once.