Sunday, August 27, 2023

The Beatitudes: Jesus' Doctrine of Happiness #JesusFollowers

Matt. 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-23

The Beatitudes contain Jesus Christ's doctrine of happiness. A strange doctrine it must sound to worldly ears! It seems a series of paradoxes, or even contradictions, amounting together to a declaration that the miserable are the happy. Nowhere does the boldness of the preacher of Galilee appear more conspicuously than in the opening sentences of the Sermon on the Mount.

This man has faith in the power of his Gospel to cope with every evil. He speaks as one who has Good News for all classes of men, and for all possible conditions. There is no human experience which Jesus regards with despair, and his doctrine is as original as it is bold. 

It is not to be confounded with that of any philosophical school. It is not Stoicism. The Stoic preached submission to misery as inevitable, and offered to his disciples the peace of despair. Jesus looks on evil as something that can be transmuted into good, and all sufferers have a hope, a reward, an outlook. It is not mere optimism, however. The optimist denies evil or explain It away, and thinks to cure human misery by fine praises. 

Jesus admits the evil that is in the world, And speak of it in plain terms; only, unlike the pessimist, he declines to regard it as final and unsurmountable. 

The kind of happiness that Jesus offers is obviously something different. Its both novel and peculiar. When he says blessed are the poor, the hungry, the sorrowful, he means either that they are blessed In spite of their misery or that they are blessed through their misery. In either case, the blessedness must be something different from what the world usually counts as happiness, something in the soul. Jesus invites us to reach felicity by the method of inwardness, Representing it as within the reach of all, just because that is the way to it.

These sayings on happiness prefixed to the Sermon on the Mount might have formed a part of the sermon in the synagogue of Nazareth on the Acceptable Year of the Lord. It is only once written in the gospel narrative, but they might have been spoken by him many times. They would have served to show the nature of his message. They might have been, and probably were, themes sounded by Jesus many times in his ministry. 

They are certainly among the most characteristic utterances of the new era of Hope. It has been remarked of the Sermon on the Mount that it seems to be a mixture of two distinct sorts of doctrine, one specially suited for the ears of disciples, and the other such as would more suitably be addressed to the multitude. 

In the judgment of critics, the former kind of doctrine predominates, so that the Sermon may be represented as a disciple-discourse with popular elements, interspersed.

There is a certain amount of truth in this view, and the mixture, discernible throughout, is traceable at the commencement. Some of the Beatitudes are for all of humanity, while some are spoken specifically for the benefit of the disciples. 

One set seems specifically for the woes of humanity at large, another brings consolation for the tribulations of Believers. The distinction is most apparent in Luke's version of the Sermon. There, three Beatitudes are spoken to the hungry, the poor, those that weep; then follows one comprehensive Beatitude for the faithful servants of the Kingdom suffering for truth and righteousness. 

It was necessary that there should be Beatattudes for both. No Gospel is complete, which has no consolations for both ordinary suffering mortals and those saints who were already battling moral evil.

In Luke's version of the discourse, they seem to refer to literal poverty, hunger, and sorrow. Christ Jesus appears there, saying, "Blessed are you poor;” “Blessed are you that hunger now;” “Blessed are you who weep now.” 

In Matthew's version, the terms employed to describe the classes addressed in the two first sentences have attached to them qualifying  phrases which make the characteristics spiritual, and limit the scope of the sayings, turning them in fact into special Beatitudes pertaining to the children of the Kingdom.

If the question is asked: which of the two forms is the more original? Our judgment inclines to that of Luke. Speaking generally, the more pregnant, kernel-like form of any saying of  Jesus is always the more likely to have been likely to have been that actually used by Him. The briefer, less developed form is most in keeping with the striking originality of His teaching. 

Jesus, as befits the Sage, loved short, suggestive sentences,  revealing much, hiding much, arresting the attention of the memory, provoking thought, demanding explanation.

(Adapted from the book "Galilean Gospel" by Dr. Aleander Balmain Bruce, 1882)

Sunday, August 20, 2023

Repentance Required By Jesus #JesusFollowers

Humanity in general were grossly corrupted both with respect to their understandings, their affections and actions, when our Lord undertook to reform them, and this rendered each one personally displeasing to his maker, as each one was become the proper object of divine dislike. 

Everyone who had behaved grossly unworthy of, and unsuitable to, his character, and who had thereby disappointed the very end of his creation; did by this means render himself personally displeasing to his maker, and the proper object of his resentment. 

For as we are free beings who have the direction of our own actions, and as we are endowed with a discerning and reasoning faculty which when carefully used and attended to would in the general rightly direct our understanding, our affections and actions, so this puts it into everyone's power, and leaves it to our choice to behave well, or ill; to render ourselves personally pleasing, or displeasing to God; and consequently to be the proper object of divine favor, or resentment. 

If then, our Lord Jesus Christ would be a savior to humanity he must reform them, and must rightly direct their minds and lives; because there was no other possible way in which he could render them personally pleasing to God, and consequently no other possible way in which he could be a favor to them. 

If he had lived to the age of Methuselah, and had behaved all that time in the best and most perfect manner possible, and if he had died a death a thousand times more painful and shameful than what he did, this might have rendered him in his own person so much the more pleasing and acceptable to his Father, as he hereby might become so much more the proper object of divine regard; but this could not possibly render any other person more or less pleasing to God, because no other person could  be Jesus.

Since the reformation of the world, and rightly directing and governing the minds and lives of human beings, was the only possible way in which Christ Jesus could be a benefit to them: so this was the only way in which he proposed to be their benefit, and this was the only method he pursued in order to obtain that goal. 

He tells sinners plainly that unless they repent they will perish; and that the true and only way to life eternal is to keep the commandments; and that if they do this they shall live; and the like. 

This is the true gospel of Jesus Christ. As to saving humanity by the imputation of his own righteousness, or the meritorious sufferings, or the prevailing intercession of Christ alone, apart from our repentance, these are doctrines which Jesus himself never taught, and are what Jesus never pretended to save us by; but were methods of salvation set up by men who have called themselveshby his name. And these methods of saving humanity, as they are of human invention, and are no part of the gospel of Christ Jesus; so they naturally and manifestly tend to subvert it.

(Adapted from the writings of Thomas Chubb)

Sunday, August 13, 2023

Would #Jesus Have Something To Say About Social Media? #JesusFollowers


It's obvious that Jesus lived long before the advent of social media, or even computers, but is there anything we can learn from him regarding how to deal with these wonders of our own era? 

If Jesus is our teacher, guide, and Master, we can find many useful lessons for our lives today in his teaching and example.

Social media can be, and is, a great benefit. We stay connected with family members, friends and co-workers, often years after they're no longer living near to us; we keep up with current events in our communities, our nation, and around the world, and we meet and interact with people from around the world whom we would never have met without social media.

But social media also has a well-known destructive side. 

We can become addicted to staring at laptop and smartphone screens. We can become disconnected with the people who are ACTUALLY around us. And we can misuse this great gift in many new and harmful ways.

It's often easy to say hurtful things, safely hidden behind a screen, that we'd never say in person. 

And perhaps one of the most damaging aspects of social media use is that it can portray others' lives as perfect, which leads us to feel bad about how our own lives measure up.

Jesus spoke of the hypocrites of his day among the Pharisees, saying: "You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean." (Matt. 23:27)

Jesus therefore calls us to not bear false witness, or put on a false facade to others while on social media.

And what of the content we consume on social? It's been said of computer programming, "Garbage in, Garbage out." Many years before this saying, Jesus spoke of what we put into our hearts.

"The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks." (Luke 6:45)

We are called by our Master to absorb good treasures, treasure that lasts an eternity, and ones that bear good fruit in the here and now.

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." (Matt. 6:19-21)

Our God-anointed Exemplar goes on to explain that what we SEE can put goodness or evil into our hearts:

"The eye is the lamp of the body. If your vision is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your vision is poor, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matt. 6:22-23)

Jesus also calls us to serve and love our neighbors. This requires that we remain connected to the living, breathing people around us - friends, co-workers, family, neighbors, and even strangers that we encounter. 

We can remain connected and reach out to them through social media, surely, but we ought not substitute a Direct Message or text for a comforting word and a helping hand.

Jesus calls us to perform righteous acts, in humility (Matt 6:1) feeding, clothing, comforting, visiting and actively engaging others - in person. (Matt. 25:35-36)

Jesus assures us that his teachings will last forever, and said if we truly love him, we will follow him, and do what he commands us to do.

Let's take his eternal teachings 20 centuries ago to heart when we use the wonderful gifts of our 21st century lives for the creation of the Kingdom Jesus says lives within us, and must come to pass on this earth through our acts in his name!

Sunday, August 6, 2023

The Real Message of the Thief On the Cross #JesusFollowers

Two men, identified in the Book of Luke as criminals, were put to death by crucifixion on either side of Jesus on Golgotha, the place of the Skull.

In Luke 23:39-43, the story is told that, "One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

This thief's experience has long been repeated by ministers and Christian apologists as "proof" that salvation can come instantly to us, effortlessly, just for the asking, and requires no knowledge or action on our part. But a closer look at this story reveals a deeper message, more consistent with the teachings of Jesus, who should be our final authority.

The teaching of many modern preachers is that the thief received "instant salvation" because of his utterance to Jesus that he believed him to be the messiah.  But they neglect one important fact: the thief clearly knew Jesus, or at least knew about him and his ministry of the Kingdom.

This is evidenced by his statements that he knew that Jesus had "done nothing wrong," that he taught about a "kingdom" and that even his colleague had called him "the Christ," or "One who is Anointed (by God)." In this case, the Messiah, or savior.

His affirmation that Jesus was innocent and that he had been anointed by God to preach about a Kingdom, showed more than a passing knowledge of Jesus and his ministry. 

Therefore, his statements showed a knowledge of Jesus and his teaching, and that teaching had been that all will be rewarded according to their deeds. His utterance, therefore, was evidence of a previous faith in Jesus, even if it had been a recent one.

And we are called to, "Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 5:16)

Showing mercy to the thief was clearly in line with Jesus' teaching that "blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." The thief's comments to Jesus and his rebuke of his fellow thief were clearly acts of mercy and kindness towards Jesus, who had just forgiven those who were putting him to death, saying "Forgive them, for they know not what they do" (23:34) even as the Roman soldiers and others taunted him.

That the thief would "surely" be with Jesus "today" in paradise (a theological hornets nest, since Jesus was said in the Fourth Gospel to have ascended to Heaven two days later, on Sunday) doesn't mean the thief was "granted" eternal life with God in Heaven, based merely on his utterance on the cross. That would be assuming a fact not stated here. At most, it means he was to stand before God, and be with Jesus, in the afterlife. It certainly showed Jesus' approval, and appreciation, for the thief's comments.

Now, all this is not to say that the thief's late recognition of Jesus wasn't rewarded by God. After all, God isn't bound by our utterances, nor by our sense of Justice or punishment As James (2:13) notes, "Mercy triumphs over justice." Christians today tend to put God in a box, saying that he "cannot" forgive or grant mercy to whomever He wishes. He surely can. 

We must not say that He "may not" grant mercy, any more than we may say that He MUST forgive and grant us eternal salvation, simply because of a single utterance of Faith about Jesus, like the one the thief made from the cross.

It also follows that we cannot take Jesus' mercy here on this one man as a license to extrapolate man-made doctrine and dogmas. Specifically, we may not use this story to imply that works and good deeds are not required from by God, when Jesus and the entire Hebrew Scriptures before him taught otherwise. Jesus said, "Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required." (Luke 12:48)

And when he was asked directly how one obtained eternal life (Mark 10:17-22) he replied by reciting the (Ten) Commandments, and urged him to observe (do) them. Elsewhere hevgave his own, saying that he believed we are required by God to follow.

Jesus calls us to a life of joyful service done lovingly for our neighbors, so that God's Heavenly Kingdom may be made a reality here on earth each day by the light of our righteous  actions.

The moment we are saved by this knowledge, and learn of Jesus' example and teachings, we are then called by him to seek to live the life he demonstrated for us and become the whole and complete human beings God wishes us to become. THAT is the clear message Jesus left for us.