In church tonight, we heard thoughts from Scott Douglas on the Beattitudes found in Matthew’s Gospel.
As I already shared on this blog, my understanding of these passages has radically changed by considering the Culture of Blessing that existed in Israel and the early church—the bringing someone close and placing hands on their head and speaking good things over them and invoking God’s benefits and presence. Blessing someone required closeness and touch—it was a hands on enactment.
So I believe the “Blessed” of the beatitudes should be understood as the Hand of God being on someone and the Presence of God being near/with someone. Something even passes from the one to the other—ex., inheritance, Abraham’s blessing, and even appears in the sacrificial system of passing guilt to the sacrifice (Leviticus 3:2)
That gets me to my new thought. As Scott talked about and Mark Driscoll has been talking about lately, there is a difference between the ethic of Religion/religious people and the Kingdom. The ethic of religion likes to judge and determine the evidence of God’s favor—typically wealth, power, success—and contrast that to the evidence of God’s disfavor—the opposite—lack of wealth, power or success.
The Bible often describes that as God’s hand being against someone.
Exodus 7:5--And the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I stretch out my hand against Egypt and bring the Israelites out of it."
Duet. 2:15--The LORD's hand was against them until he had completely eliminated them from the camp.
Ruth 1:13--No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD's hand has gone out against me!"
1 Samuel 12:15--But if you do not obey the LORD, and if you rebel against his commands, his hand will be against you, as it was against your fathers.
Acts 13:11--Now the hand of the Lord is against you. You are going to be blind, and for a time you will be unable to see the light of the sun. Immediately mist and darkness came over him, and he groped about, seeking someone to lead him by the hand.
Jesus addresses the question several times—“who sinned, this man or his parents that he would be born blind?”—John 9:2--Luke 13:1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.
Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them--do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.
The Prevailing attitude being that bad things happening to you is a sign that God’s hand is against you.
How many in the early church were confused and carried this same attitude with them? They were embracing Christ, believing in the resurrection and forgiveness and grace and yet their lives by all evaluating evidence was probably worse than before. Many had lost whatever they did have, they were being persecuted, they were mourning, was God’s hand on them in blessing or in cursing?
Jesus is teaching, through the idea and culture of blessing, that God’s hand of favor was upon them—the blessing of the Kingdom was theirs—despite what the world would interpret as signs of God’s disapproval—in fact the exact opposite was true. God’s hand of favor, His blessed presence was theirs—they would see and are seeing God—His presence is close to them because their hearts have been purified by the washing of the blood of Christ.
God’s sure sign of blessing is not “health & wealth” but His presence and assurance in the midst of suffering. Bad things happen to good people so often because the kingdom of this world is diametrically opposed to the Kingdom of God.