On the Mountain, The Lord Speaks

And the LORD came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain

The Introduction to the Re-telling of the Law, Don’t Kid Yourself, This Time It’s Even More Difficult to Follow

Matthew 4:25-5:22

We will begin in verse 25 of chapter 4 because of the conjunction function.

And great multitudes followed Him from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan. And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

Review Time: Matthew Vs. The Pentateuch, Jesus 6, Israel 0, but who’s keeping score?  Matthew 1=Genesis genesis/genealogy.  Matthew 1+2= Exodus enslavement/infancy narrative/out of Egypt. Matthew 3:13-17 Baptism=Exodus​ 14:10-13 crossing of water. Matthew 4:1-11=Exodus​ 16:1-17:7 wilderness temptation. Matthew 4:18=Exodus 18:21 helpers. And now and the next few missives, Matthew 5-7=Exodus​ 19:1-23:33 mountain of law-giving.

While the author’s aspiration to his audience is amazing and unparalleled in any other literature, Context is King. To the context we shall go. Matthew 5, as I ever-so-cleverly emphasize, begins with another conjunction–“and.” It ties the content of chapter five to that of chapter four. Listen to the words: “And great multitudes followed Him from Galilee and Decapolis and Jerusalem and Judea and from beyond the Jordan. And when He saw the multitudes, He went up on the mountain.” Same scene? I cannot stress enough the wonderful job that the translators have done with a difficult task–translating the languages of the Bible, which have no punctuation and the Old Testament had no vowels, into English that is readable and accurate. However, whose idea was it to put a chapter break here? Ignore the chapter break. It’s clearly the same scene. We’ll place the chapter break before chapter 4, verse 25. Nevertheless, the chapter breaks are useful, I have proved that with my last statement. Moving on.

“He went up on the mountain; and after He sat down, His disciples came to Him. And opening His mouth He began to teach them, saying, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” The Greek word for mountain, transliterated from Greek is, oros: mountain, or; hill, most likely from the word, “to rise up.” It was probably more of a gradual incline– think of a natural theater, though in reverse. I have been to this alleged site, and unlike the rest of the supposed “holy sites” which are dubious at best, I believe this site to be authentic. We’re given the basic geography and description in the gospel and I can assure you that the acustics​ are unbelievable. One can hear a speaking voice from a thousand feet away. Having said that, to whom was Jesus speaking, the disciples or the multitude?

First, since we are considering the context, notice Jesus opens his mouth and sits down. Why would Matthew include these seemingly simple statements? We need to take our vitamins. What is Matthew’s aspiration to his audience? Consider the genre in which he writes. He is harkening back to the Old Testament. We must consider our Old Testament tutor. The best part is we’ve seen it before, “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the LORD.” And the sitting is replete with recognition. He sits on the throne, for example. But also it appears to be a custom of Jesus, consider Luke 4:20 “And He closed the book, and gave it back to the attendant, and sat down; and the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed upon Him.” Then he spoke words which upset the people–more on this later.

To whom was Jesus speaking? His disciples, that is, his followers–the twelve have yet to be named. However, he also was speaking to the multitude, considering the CAGED method. That is the context, aspirations of author, genre, exegesis and dividing. We have much to cover, therefore quickly we notice;  the grammar indicates Jesus was speaking to followers. Could this mean the multitude? Possible but not plausible– Matthew states multitude twice, if he intended the multitude, why change to “followers?” However, considering the genre, which allows liberties, and the setting of the hill, and using our Old Testament tutor, the reader sees Jesus, unlike Moses who went up the mountain alone and the multitude didn’t follow, Jesus speaks to the masses. Regardless, it is of little consequence and we must move on.

The Introduction to the “Sermon on the Mount,” or, “The Beatitudes” Reads: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. “Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. “Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

“Blessed,” it sounds like a holy word, doesn’t it? The truth is, the Greek word transliterated as, “Makarioi,” and in original Greek, “Μακάριοι,” means, happy, or to extend, make long or large. One may think off the Jewish tradition of a long life, a precept, not a promise. However, the New Testament and this particular passage, seems to contradict that. Because of the context, I believe, the translators use the word, “blessed.” In my humble opinion, it is because it sounds more holy and differs slightly from the promise of a long life. I have zero problem with that. It’s good to give a difference between earthly happiness and happiness in God. Nevertheless, it does delude the mind of the reader. For instance, when we think of being “blessed,” do we not assume a quid pro quo? That is, if I am poor in spirit, I will inherit the kingdom of heaven? If I am gentle, I will inherit the earth? Or should it be read, happy are the poor, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs? The question is, are we happy “because,” or are we happy, “so-that?” It seems like short-sighted semantics, but really consider this. Is it cause and effect, or is it an effect because of the cause? If you want to think of it as a “chicken and the egg” type situation, that’s fine, but I believe it is much deeper than that.

In the original Greek, it literally reads, blessed (happy) the poor…” The word “are” is missing. That is because the adjectives “blessed” and “poor” are in the nominative, meaning they are the subject, as “he” would be in the sentence, “he went home.” In modern English, the adjective “blessed,” has come to mean, “consecrated;” “made holy.” Possibly, this is partially because of texts like these. While this is absolutely true; that these things are part of a believers walk, was that the aspiration of Jesus to his audience? I believe his aspiration was much more simple–blessed, could very well best be described as, heavenly happiness. Notice the juxtaposition between happiness and worldly troubles.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Poor meaning, “absolutely destitute;” empty, to the point of no spirit; not self-willed; broken; transliterated as “ptōchoi” originally, “πτωχοὶ.” Happy are the destitute of Spirit? Now we begin to see the seemingly contradictory statements Jesus makes. Thinking earthly, one would say the opposite is true. But thinking heavenly, one realizes that their own being, does get in the way of heavenly happiness. Still, this is a hard pill to swallow, metaphorically speaking. And it doesn’t get any easier as we walk through the context.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” Happy are those distraught over a death, they will be comforted?  “Blessed are the gentle (meek), for they shall inherit the earth.” Happy are the ones who have power but show restraint because they will inherit the soil? “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Happy to hunger and thirst? Do we see the absolute contradiction between what the world would consider happiness and with how heavenly happiness looks? This is not cause and effect but cause because of the effect. One who is meek is happy because he inherits, not so-that he will inherit.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Because one will receive mercy, he is merciful. One does not receive mercy because he is merciful. What is being said is even more confused by the verb, “shall,” or, “will,” which is in the future tense. Again, this is very heavenly, the future dictates the past. We simply don’t think like this. On this mountain, at this time​, Jesus, like himself before, changes everything once again. We must also notice that the future fulfillment of said happiness is in the accusative case. English has no accusitive case because of the way in which its sentences are arranged. In Greek, the direct object, which follows a transient verb, in the accusitive case, is said to belong to the subject. In this case, the subject is the merciful and the direct object is mercy. The transient verb is, “will inherit.” Therefore, and it really is this easy, mercy will belong to the merciful therefore they are happy. It should not be read as; because they will receive mercy, they will be merciful and happy.

With the grammar firmly established, he jested, we move on. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” In the Old Testament and the New, pure means, without admixture. The Law given on Sinai, and the “new law” given here on this “mountain​,” are full of descriptions of things not to mix, such as, clothing, meat and dairy (which is a bad joke), God with other gods, etc. The intention is the same. One’s heart should not be mixed but pure. Problem: show me the destitute of spirit, the meek, the distraught over death, the hungry, the thirsty, the peacemaker, the persecuted and the perfectly pure heart. For a long time I prayed (almost) daily, “make me a peace-maker.” I guess that goes to our turbulent times, which are the best of times, and the worst. Use this technology to give glory to God, no one cares about your food! Now I feel better. You can laugh, apparently I need more peace-maker prayer. I tell you this because I thought it to be the most important attribute at that time. I did not seek a reward of being called a son of God, I sought to bring peace to people who desperately needed peace. Nevertheless, I focused on one, choosing to start there. Not because God said so, but because God showed me so. That is, God has already said it, happy are the peace-makers, but he showed me the reason, the need, and the happiness with being a peace-maker. It is not a prerequisite for being a son of God. One may be meek, to a degree and one can certainly mourn, but which one of us is truly a peace-maker or pure of heart?

These are not cause and effect, prerequisites for obtaining anything. Nor are they laws or anti-laws–well, they are the introduction to the anti-laws, prophetically speaking. Whereas the “Law of Moses” is the type and the “Sermon on the Mount” is the anti-type. However, the “Beatitudes” are something different, something personified in Jesus. Even the distraught over death. I taught teenagers for almost seven years, from the rugged rural farmer to the inner-city aspiring intellectual, and they all have the same favorite verse “Jesus wept.” Of course I would always ask them, “what’s the context and I will give you credit?” They never knew. The context was that he had learned that Lazarus had died. Even though Christ knew that God had the power to raise him from the dead or call him home, Jesus was still distrought over death. He was sad that his friend had died.

I believe that is the message Jesus gives to his followers in the introduction to the “Sermon on the Mount.” Jesus is priming the pump for the re-telling of the Law. He is demonstrating the effect because of the cause. He is describing himself to show people true, heavenly happiness. The proof is in his conclusion, which we will soon see. First, let jump ahead in the context quickly, to see the heavenly happiness.

Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”

And now, the conclusion to the introduction that paves the way for the re-telling of the Law.

“Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

This persecution, is the type of persecution which we see from Saul of Tarsus in the book of Acts. The word means to aggressively pursue, or, hunt down. Like dogs, Saul would hunt down the christians and throw them in cages, or worse. That’s a little perspective for my friends who think we’re living in the absolute last day because things are so bad in the United States. Yes, we’re so terribly oppressed, he wrote sarcastically​. To all those who have to read my missives in secret for fear of life and limb, great is your reward. To those in a certain communist country in the Caribbean, who cannot read my missives because your benevolent government provides you with only what they approve…Oh right, you can’t read this unless you have a proxy server. This is truth. Stop buying books on blood moons and rapture dates. Wow, I am really getting some things off my chest today. Blessed are the meek. The pen is mightier than the sword, I have to be careful because I don’t blame sheep for following shepherds, but these shepherds are actually ravenous wolves. But as always, I am getting a bit ahead of myself, we will see this soon, Lord willing.

Christ’s conclusion on the introduction: “Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” Here we see heavenly happiness. Here we see the believers contentment and even rejoicing. “Rejoice, and (conjunction) be glad.” We noticed briefly the custom of Jesus to stand to read scripture, yet sit to speak. I mentioned that he gave a message not pleasing to the people. This is how he concludes this introduction, and it is huge, do not miss this–ten simple words with wonderous theological implications. Remember Matthew’s aspiration to his audience is that Jesus is the true Israel. Remember that Jesus is priming the pump to re-tell the law on the mountain and notice:

“For so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” For: conjunction, meaning because; so: adverb; they: pronoun, referring to the Israel, especially the leaders; persecuted: verb, past tense, meaning to hunt down and even kill; the: definite article, though no definite or indefinite article exist in Greek but context clarifies; prophets: plural noun, meaning messengers of God; before: preposition, meaning earlier; you: personal pronoun referring to the followers.

Did you see it? Those who follow Christ are compared to the persecuted prophets and Israel is the persecutor. Saul of Tarsus would be a prime example, until Christ called him and he changed his mind and became like these, “beatitudes.”

 

 

 

 

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